Those of us who struggle with depression or an anxiety disorder know that finding the right treatment can be challenging. From finding the right therapist to discovering the SSRI that works best on our brains, it can all seem endless and overwhelming – particularly when we just want to feel better already!
If this is you, you may want to consider mindfulness-based cognitive therapy as an option.
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, or MBCT, is a type of treatment that combines elements of mindfulness with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Mindfulness involves bringing our attention to the present moment, without judgment, instead of ruminating about the past or worrying about what lies ahead. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps us identify negative or incorrect thoughts and reframe them into thoughts that are more accurate and realistic.
Using MBCT, the goal is to apply mindfulness techniques to acknowledge our thoughts without placing judgments on them. Ideally, in doing so, we prevent ourselves from getting swept away by negative thought patterns that influence our mood and mental state – which contributes to anxiety and depression.
There are many types of mindfulness techniques one can incorporate when practicing MBCT:
Present-moment awareness. This is the most basic mindfulness technique. Put simply, it means to pay attention to what you’re doing, when you do it – whether you’re brushing your teeth, walking your dog, or any other typical daily activity.
Meditation. Meditation is a form of mindfulness that usually involves sitting quietly and focusing on your breathing, thoughts, or certain objects to cultivate awareness and a sense of calm. Walking meditation is another form of meditation where you notice objects and sensations along your path as you move.
Body scanning. During a body scanning exercise, you sit or lie down, close your eyes, and move your attention from one part of your body to the next, noticing sensations as you go.
Movement. Mindful movement means engaging in focused movement, such as stretching, yoga, or Pilates.
Sounds. Noticing the sounds around us – from the wind through the trees to the neighbor’s dog barking – is another way to practice being present in the moment.
MBCT has shown promise in recent studies as a treatment method for folks with depression (major depressive disorder) and anxiety disorders. There are several ways it has shown to be effective:
MBCT has shown to be particularly effective in reducing symptoms of rumination and worry in folks with depression and/or anxiety.
Congnitive behavioral therapy is based on the premise that our thoughts contribute to our physical, emotional, and mental state. When we practice mindfulness combined with CBT, we are better able to notice our thoughts as they occur. This helps us recognize when we’re focusing on the past (ruminating) or catastrophizing about what could happen in the future (worrying). Over time, the troublesome thoughts start to lessen, and we no longer respond negatively to them. This leads to a reduction in common symptoms – such as sadness and hopelessness for depression, or nervousness and panic for anxiety.
The ultimate goal for anyone with depression or anxiety is to reach recovery – the point where we feel better, no longer have symptoms, and can live a full quality of life. Continually practicing mindfulness-based cognitive therapy helps us get to this and maintain a state of recovery.
Those of us struggling with depression and anxiety know that relapse – or a recurrence of symptoms – is always a possibility. If you’re someone who tends to relapse frequently, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy may be an option for you. MBCT has shown to be an effective method in preventing relapse for those with MDD or anxiety disorders.
Traditionally, MBCT has been offered in a classroom setting, led by trained therapists. Finding access to such a class outside of major cities has been difficult.
In recent years, however, online access to MBCT has become available, as well as the addition of self-help books that you can buy and work through on your own.
As always, talk to your healthcare professional before starting any treatment plan.
Please call the mental health/suicide hotline 988 or visit your local emergency room if you are in distress.