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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Feeling Depressed? Here's 1 practice that could begin to turn it around

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Dec 11th 2008

girl depressed Almost 10% of the adult population in America suffers from depression. It affects our ability to work, our relationships, and our general enjoyment in life. At times it really feels like no one can help us, we can't help ourselves, and it's never going to get better. The feelings and thoughts of hopelessness seem to invade every cell of our being.

In an earlier blog I mentioned how our thoughts, emotions, physical sensations, and behavior all cycle together to create our experience in this world, including depression. For example, when we think a situation is hopeless...feelings of sadness, fear, and anger may arise, along with physical sensations of tiredness and heaviness, causing us to want to isolate which only inevitably makes this spiral go down further. The following is a practice out of the Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) program, which has significantly helped people with depressive relapse.  I recommend doing this 3-minute practice, 3X/day to increase your awareness of these different aspects of experience, steady your mind, and begin to become present before moving forward with a behavior that will support you in moving out of depression.

  1. First, spend 1 minute bringing awareness to thoughts, feelings, and emotions. In other words, take a moment and just notice what thoughts are in your mind. "I am tired", "I am weak", "I have too much to do", etc... Then name the emotions that are there. For example, fear, sadness, shame, guilt, anger, excitement, happiness. Then bring attention to the body, notice your posture, if there is any tension anywhere, just acknowledging whatever sensations are there. The purpose of this is to break you out of the auto-pilot cycle your thoughts, feelings, and sensations are in, and bring more awareness to each of them.  (1-Minute)

  2. Second, withdraw attention from that part, and now bring your attention to your breath. As you breathe in, notice the breath coming in, and as you breathe out, notice the breath coming out. If you like, you can also say to yourself, "in", as you breathe in, and as you breathe out, say to yourself "out". If you can, bring the breath into the stomach and notice it rising and falling with each in and out breath. The purpose of this piece is to begin to steady the mind. (1-Minute)

  3. Third, bring your awareness now into your body. In this practice we are not thinking about sensations in the body, but actually experiencing them. Just noticing and sensing into whatever sensations are there. Examples might be warmth, coolness, achiness, dryness, wetness, tingling, pressure, tightness, holding, etc... Just actually feeling the sensations as they are, without judgment. We're not trying to figure them out or analyze them, just really sensing into them. (1-Minute)

I recommend doing this 3X/day so you can get the hang of it and eventually use it when experiencing more distressing situations. If you are not doing it regularly, it's difficult to grab for it when you're really not feeling well. So see if you can start off by scheduling this short practice 3X/day. 

When depressed, do this breathing space and then try the following:

  • Pleasure - begin to engage in an activity that you find pleasurable. This could be playing with your animal, taking a walk, or watching your favorite choose.

  • Satisfaction - You can also engage in an activity that gives you a sense of satisfaction, control, or achievement. This could be something as small as clearing out a drawer or getting something smaller done you have been putting off for a while.

Whichever you choose, try and have an attitude of kindness toward yourself. If thoughts arise right now, like "this will never help me", just notice those as thoughts, let them be, and begin to redirect your mind toward this practice. If you don't do it 3X/day or even 1X/day, there is no need to judge yourself for this. You judge yourself enough, that is not part of this practice. This practice involves forgiving and inviting. That means, if you haven't done this in a while, forgive yourself, and treat that moment as an insight and engage then in the 3-minute practice. Kindness toward yourself, although it may seem foreign, will be a tremendous healer.

As always, please share your experience with this practice or let us know you do something similar that works for you. Please comment below.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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