“Mindfulness is the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to things as they are.”
– “The Mindful Way Through Depression,” Williams, Teasdale, Segal, and Kabat-Zinn (2007)

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is one of the most effective therapy systems in the world for those of us who suffer from persistent or recurrent depression. Since its creation, MBCT has been proven to be highly beneficial for anyone struggling with overwhelming negative emotions. At Gearing Up, we have found this therapy system effective with anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, panic attacks, grief and loss, and trauma.

By learning to differentiate between our doing-driven mode of mind or our being mode of mind, we become more nimble at avoiding the rumination and self-invalidation that leads to recurrent depression. We no longer measure and obsess over where our lives are and where we are convinced they should be. The doing-driven mind is no longer allowed to crush our sense of who we are by constantly criticizing our status and efforts. Instead, we use present moment awareness (being mode of mind) to create self-validation, calm and centeredness and most importantly emotional self-control and self-regulation.

MBCT combines the invaluable skills and strategies of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with the innovative techniques and benefits of Mindfulness. The marriage between these two disciplines offers unprecedented improvement due to its unique approach.

Mindfulness prevents the tsunami of emotions from sweeping us away. By focusing our attention and by repeating that directive routinely, we establish our ability to govern not only our thoughts but also our emotions. Mindfulness allows centering and resting of the mind in the present moment. No judgment is allowed, only acceptance of awareness as it occurs. By steading our minds with present moment awareness, we experience ourselves as a peaceful and strong person, often for the first time in our lives. The sense of stability and emotional comfort are often unprecedented.

But most importantly, Mindfulness gives us distance from our ruminative emotions and thoughts when we need it most. Most of us with recurrent depression are drawn into another episode by becoming lost in the harmful emotions as they occur. “Relapse involves the reactivation, at times of lowering mood, of patterns of negative thinking similar to the thought patterns that were active during previous episodes of depression… Within this view, the self is felt to be inadequate, worthless and blameworthy and negative thoughts are seen as accurate reflections of reality. Reactivation of these patterns of thinking is automatic.”

We fight against descending into depression with avoidance and withdrawal and rumination. But MBCT teaches us to relate to these negative thoughts and emotions in a brand new way. By refusing to avoid them and by insisting on remaining mindfully aware of them, these cavalcades of invalidating thoughts gradually drift out of our minds. They fail to get that foothold in our minds since we are observing them and categorizing them as simple mental events rather than as credible reflections of our reality. With nowhere to go, these thoughts and emotions become less powerful as they gradually dissipate and finally vanish.

“Depression is a disorder of individual helplessness and individual failure.” – Martin Seligman, Ph.D.

Decades ago, depression arrived in our lives around midlife. Now depression strikes a full decade earlier than it did a generation ago. More children than ever experience depression in childhood and it often remains undiagnosed or even misdiagnosed by well meaning parents and professionals. For most of us, the first round of depression strikes in the twenties when life should be beginning to bloom. Instead of having the energy and stamina to complete education, build professional experience and find that significant life partner, we are drawn into the depressive abyss that we are helpless to escape.

We now know that depression is a recurrent illness that intensifies with each episode. Once we recover, we are free and clear of the depression until fifty percent of us fall into the depressive cycle again. After several episodes of depression, we have an eighty to ninety percent chance of falling into a severe depressive episode . Unfortunately unless we repair this negative cycle, we are vulnerable to recurrent and worsening depressive episodes each time we slide downward. Since depression strikes earlier, we now have many more decades to experience the intense suffering and destruction brought by the depression.

According to MBCT researchers, “depression forges a connection in the brain between sad mood and negative thoughts, so that even normal sadness can reawaken major negative thoughts.” As CBT taught us, thoughts create negative moods. But MBCT added that moods could affect thoughts. If we are ruminating and feeling normal sadness we can lower our mood with focusing our thoughts on things that should not ordinarily upset us. What should be a routine setback or disappointment is magnified and ruminated about. A temporary disappointment can lead quickly to the negative thinking that can spiral into to clinical depression.

MBCT is highly effective when there is an entrenched and unyielding depression that refuses to resolve. The Mindfulness teaches us to approach the thoughts and emotions differently, to remain present when encountering emotional discomfort or pain and to neutralize the rumination. The Cognitive techniques teach us how to record and challenge our thoughts with logic and reason. Using the acceptance skills of Mindfulness and the strategies of Cognitive Therapy, we can learn to avoid the automatic negativity of our brains while building a sense of calm and centeredness that inevitability makes us emotionally stronger and less reactive. With MBCT, we can finally find a life beyond the depression that has been so defining.

With Mindfulness, we no longer take the constant negative commentary in our minds at face value. Instead, we are able to remain centered in present moment as we also remain aware of our emotional discomfort. Avoidance is the great intensifier of negativity in our minds. By mindfully paying attention (observing and describing without judgment) to the pain and sadness, we decrease their influence.

When mindfulness is combined with the skills of CBT, we are able to redirect and correct our thoughts with the benefits of non-judgment. We recognize that thoughts are just thoughts and not facts. We are not emotionally hijacked by self-loathing thoughts since we recognize with Mindfulness that these thoughts are just mental phenomena that are temporary. With our mind working in harmony, we are able to recognize and acknowledge our automatic negative thoughts and the emotions that they create without stepping into them. We create that distance or “pause” between ourselves and the painful thoughts and emotions. We keep our minds focused and accurate and clear.