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Retraining your Brain to be Less Anxious and Depressed
How to reduce anxiety and depression with mindfulness – West Chester, Allentown, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Newark, Wilmington, and Milford, Delaware based Telehealth Counselor- Therapist Paula Tropiano, LPC, LCMH
Being present is essential. If we aren’t present, we cannot engage in life and respond to what comes into our path. However, paying attention can be challenging for a lot of people. It takes effort and resilience to interface with the moment and what it might require.
As a Counselor and Behavior Therapist in Pennsylvania and Delaware, I start most sessions with clients with mindfulness practice. We sit quietly, transition from whatever happened before the session, and orient to the moment, focusing solely on the breath. Most people chuckle and sometimes push back, feeling awkward sitting with another person and breathing without talking, even for a few minutes. I can understand how this might feel odd, as we don’t get many opportunities to practice just “being” in a quiet space alone or with another. When we do, the mind starts to go and run its’ “thought ticker,” one thought after another. In meditation, this is called the “monkey mind.” Rambling, “Monkey mind” thoughts do not get judged as unfavorable. On the contrary, being able to notice them and to observe the mind is considered skillful and positive – identifying the content, patterns, and habits that tend to drive, as I put it, “the behavioral bus.” When we know what is there, we can develop the ability to discern which thoughts to engage and how to move forward.
So, why would we be quiet and focus on breathing? As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “Our lives depend on it!” Mindfulness helps with an emphasis on cultivating full attention. Mindfulness helps us “show up” to life and to be able to see and accept things for what they indeed are so that we can respond effectively. It also helps us to become wise.
Mindfulness helps separate fact from fiction.
There is a biological basis supporting the value of cultivating mindfulness and attention. For example, studies at the University of Wisconsin have shown that anxious and depressed people have different brain activities; an overactive right prefrontal cortex is associated with certain types of negative affect accompanied by increased vigilance to threat-related cues, a symptom that often occurs with anxiety. Conversely, after practicing mindfulness, the left prefrontal cortex, “the feel-good centers,” became more active. Another study with high-tech office workers showed right frontal to left frontal changes in activation, improved mood, increased engagement in daily activities, and more robust immune systems.
Studies have also shown that Tibetan monks with extensive experience practicing mindfulness had minor anxiety and depression as well as the most positive measures of well-being. In addition, Massachusetts General Hospital studies have also shown that mindfulness decreased the amygdala s’ reactionary fear response activity and increased the brain’s capacity for reason, planning, and executive function.
Perhaps this is a robust case for investing the energy to be more mindful and using “downtime” to “tune in” versus “tuning out.” Positive habits inside create positive habits outside and make for more resilience and the ability to buffer against symptoms of anxiety and depression.