In the past few years you may have heard of mindfulness. It has been proposed as a treatment for anxiety, depression, and generally getting the most enjoyment out of life. This concept of mindfulness seems to be everywhere from medical research, to TV, to news articles, but what does it really mean and where did it come from?

Defining Mindfulness

Mindfulness is defined as “a state of active, open attention on the present”[1].

The idea is that with daily practice, we can observe our thoughts and feelings from a distance without judging them as good or bad. Mindfulness often consists of a short daily practice (sometimes just 10 minutes) during which a person uses a combination of breathing exercises and meditation as a timeout from his or her busy life. This time offers a moment to reflect on the day, our thoughts, and just a little time to wind down.

Mindfulness practice has roots in Buddhism and other Eastern religions mixed in with cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). CBT is a therapeutic technique that can offer individuals relief from stress, anxiety, and an active way of changing destructive behaviors.

What Does Mindfulness Mean for You?

So, what is the big deal you might ask? Depression affects up to 1 out of 20 Americans, 12 years old and up. Among women 40-59 years old, up to 10 percent reported being depressed.

Depression is a grouping of symptoms that can include:

  • Feelings of sadness or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities
  • Difficulty sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Not having any energy
  • Thoughts of death or suicide[2]

There are many medications for depression, but they often have side effects, can take weeks or months to have an effect, sometimes have no effects at all, and they can be expensive[3]. Mindfulness has been shown by many studies to be an effective tool in treating the symptoms of depression in children and adults[4].

Start Your Own Mindfulness Practice

How can you start your own practice? It’s easy. There are numerous cell phone apps that are free or a minimal cost that will get you on your way to a daily mindfulness practice. Check out the resources below!

There’s an App for That

  • Calm: Free app with breathing exercises and a 7-day guided introduction to mindfulness.
  • Headspace: Award-winning app that has 10 free mindfulness education sessions.
  • Breathe2relax: Hands-on guided breathing exercises to help stabilize mood and decrease stress.

Other Resources

  • Huffington Post: Section dedicated to mindfulness articles.
  • Mindfulness in VT: The Center for Mindfulness has meditation and interactive discussions every Sunday in Burlington, VT.

Dave Segal, RN and Madeline Howe, RN are graduate students in UVM’s Department of Nursing. When they aren’t studying up to become Family Nurse Practitioners, they both enjoy skiing and spending time with their families.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/mindfulness

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/basics/mental-illness/depression.htm

[3] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/obsessively-yours/201001/five-reasons-not-take-ssris

[4] https://www.cdc.gov/childrensmentalhealth/depression.html

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