Mindfulness Helpful for Depression and Anxiety

Mindfulness offers another tool to improve mental health

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 42.5 million adults in the US have anxiety and 21 million have depression, including more than six million aged 12 to 17 who have major to severe depression.

In addition to other treatments and practices, mindfulness may offer one means of helping those afflicted with anxiety and depression.

“When we feel anxious, it’s like the fear of the future,” said Gizelle Hinson, master’s prepared social worker. “Trauma is something from the past that contributes to depression. Mindfulness allows you to be in the present where you’re safe and not living in a space where the pain has happened to you and you can use breathwork to calm the body and make decision. If you’re still stuck on what happened before, it’s hard to learn and work. This is a tool to help improve self-regulation skills and emotions.”

Hinson is a principal consultant and executive coach with The Mindful Institute in Buffalo.

Mindfulness begins with paying attention to the body, beginning with breathing. Slowing breathing helps support the parasympathetic nervous system and calm the “fight or flight” response. People are better able to sensibly respond rather than react.

“Mindfulness is a way about thinking about the way you think,” Hinson said. “It’s present moment awareness. It’s about not judging the things that come to your awareness. So often we judge things. We have the emotional attachment that comes with that and sometimes that doesn’t help what we’re trying to process. Mindfulness allows things to exist without judging so we can let go of the problem.”

Slowing down is a key aspect of mindfulness and paying attention to sensory input: the feel of woolen mittens, the sound of snow squeaking under boots, the feel of snowflakes on the face and bite of cold in the air. It’s much easier to scurry through the weather on the way to the next errand while ruminating over the embarrassing incident at work yesterday.

Loralee Sessanna, Ph.D., registered nurse, board-certified advanced holistic nurse and clinical professor at UB, advised starting by paying attention to small practices, such as “mindfully brushing your teeth. Take time to smell the toothpaste, the feel of the brush and notice the taste. Notice how your mouth feels before and after. Pay attention to the present moment.”

Sessanna said that deep, cleansing breaths in a private place helps when stressors pile up during the day, as this can help slow down the autonomic nervous system.

“Part of this self-care entails advocating for yourself and making sure you have time to set aside for self-care and things for you,” she added. “To really acknowledge what you need for yourself and not be afraid to reach out if you need help.”

It’s easy to let the mind drift to worrisome thoughts while trying to quiet it. When this happens, Tania T. Von Visger, advanced practice registered nurse in critical care, Ph.D. and assistant professor at UB advises allowing the feelings to happen and acknowledging them but to avoid judging them.

“It gives you calm to reflect,” Visger said. “That can help with anxiety when you have something like a panic attack. You can slow things down. Research has shown that mindfulness can be equal in its effective with depression treatment like medication.”

Many people find engaging in hobbies and physical activities they enjoy helps them stay in the moment in a mindful way. Exercise in particular promotes mindfulness as it typically includes deep breathing and shifting the focus away from troubling thoughts.

“When you breathe deeply, it can help you get into rest and relaxation,” Visger said. “When you do that more, it balances your emotions and how you feel and it gives you calm to reflect.”