Mindfulness has been shown to help individuals who have anxiety and/or depression. But if you’re new to the art of mindfulness, it can seem an intimidating practice. It doesn’t have to be – in fact, mindfulness is one of the most accessible ways to alleviate stressors and encourage relaxation. This approach can also inform your therapy sessions, if you choose to see a therapist who specializes in mindfulness-based approaches.
Dan Sharir, a Psychologist and Licensed Mental Health Counselor in New York City, is one such therapist. Dr. Sharir works with clients who are coping with depression and anxiety – and here, he shares symptoms to look out for in both disorders. He also shares different therapy types that might be helpful for combatting anxiety and depression, as well as some exercises you can do at home to lift their hold on you.
Do I have depression? How can I know?
Every person might experience sadness at some point in their lives. This is a normal reaction to difficult experiences, and usually passes after some time. But when people have clinical depression, it interferes with their lives. Depression can cause people to want to isolate themselves and not interact with others.
Some of the most common symptoms of depression include:
- Persistent sadness or hopelessness
- Lack of energy
- Irritability or restlessness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Loss of interest in pleasurable activities
- Changes in sleeping or eating habits
- Thoughts of suicide or death
Do I have anxiety? How can I know?
Every person can occasionally become anxious and anxiety can be a normal part of life. You might feel anxiety about speaking in public, your career, taking a test, meeting a new person, or making a decision.
However, for a person with an anxiety disorder their worries do not go away, and can intensify over time.
Some of the most common symptoms of anxiety include:
- Excessive worrying
- Physically uncomfortable symptoms
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Panic attacks
- Gastrointestinal (GI) disturbances
What types of therapy are good for people with anxiety and/or depression?
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a proven treatment approach for both anxiety and depression. This is a short-term, goal-oriented approach that aims to change patterns of thinking and associated behaviors connected to those thoughts.
Working together with the therapist, the client examines the way thoughts and attitudes impact behaviors. Once the client understands the connection, it becomes easier for them to cope with the anxiety or depressive symptoms. Mindfulness strategies can also help individuals with depression and anxiety control their thoughts.
Is group therapy helpful for depression or anxiety? Why?
There are many benefits to group sessions for anxiety or depression. Group therapy allows the person to see others experiencing the same struggles, which can help eliminate the common feeling of being somehow abnormal or “broken.”
Group therapy for anxiety or depression can also be a useful learning opportunity. By listening to the strategies used by other people as well as advice from a professional counselor, the person may discover a new resource or method for anxiety or depression management.
What does mindfulness mean – and how can it help my anxiety or depression?
Mindfulness is learning how to be fully present in the moment, aware of where we are and what we are doing without reacting or being overwhelmed. We acknowledge our thoughts and feelings without judging them.
For people suffering from anxiety or depression this approach is useful because it has been shown to reduce stress.
What’s it like to learn mindfulness in therapy?
There are many tools available for learning mindfulness, and a therapist can help guide you.
During the session the therapist, will first teach you breathing exercises. Other aspects of mindfulness – such as being non-judgmental and kind to yourself – are also discussed in therapy.
What are some mindfulness exercises I can practice on my own?
- Sit comfortably and close your eyes.
- Keep both feet on the ground and your hands in your lap.
- Breathe in through your nose for four seconds. Focus on the breath and the cold air coming in.
- Breathe out through your mouth for six seconds. Focus on the warm air going out.
You can also be mindful in your everyday activities.
For example, when you eat, only engage in that activity. Do not look at your phone, watch television, or read. Just focus on the food, and the experience of eating.
What should I look for in a therapist who practices mindfulness?
When first talking to a new therapist, ask the therapist how mindfulness is incorporated into treatment. Ask the therapist: How does mindfulness help you to cope with anxiety or depression? Does the therapist recommend any books or phone apps for you to use? Ultimately, the therapist should help you learn strategies to increase awareness, be present, identify feelings, and learn meditative tools.