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Being ‘Mindful’ of Our Mood and preventing depression

 'Busy’ is the buzz-word of our life and the current times.

You set the alarm, then lay awake checking emails on your phone. Race against time to keep pace with the morning. You catch up on the headlines, wish your cousin for her anniversary, plan the work day ahead, all this on your commute to work. In this bid to fully utilise every moment, and ensure a smooth and well-planned future, what you may be missing out on is the present – the here and the now!

This constant jugglery leaves us with our minds always full, but seldom ‘mindful’. The frenzy, deadlines, emails, grocery, bills and presentations – you try and keep pace with it all, many a times at the cost of your own health and well-being.

Globally, the prevalence of depression has gone up substantially, sufficient for it to warrant being the theme of World Health Organisation's World Health Day on April 7 this year. Examining the Indian scenario in particular, a recent survey suggests that nearly one in 20 Indians suffered from depression (NIMHANS, 2016). Although typically presenting with pervasive sadness, it can also be commonly associated with anxiety, anger, impulsivity, loss of energy, a change in appetite, sleeping more or less, feelings of worthlessness, guilt, or hopelessness; and thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Depression often coexists with excessive alcohol or substance use. In order to identify the most suitable treatment, an initial evaluation by a psychiatrist is required to establish the diagnosis, understanding factors that contribute to the condition and a treatment plan that includes psychological therapy to promote psychoeducation and lifestyle measures.

In view of these alarming statistics, there couldn’t be a better time to focus on ways to prevent depression and alleviate our well-being. Mindfulness practice is a powerful tool in this context.

So what is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness means paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, and non-judgmentally. It is all about bringing attention to our thoughts, feelings and actions as they arise from moment to moment. While it may seem like an uphill task to begin with, the good news is that one may easily get better with some practice. Formal mindfulness could occur to us as challenging, given the natural tendency of our mind to wander (Killingsworth & Gilbert 2010), and run in autopilot mode (Bargh & Chartrand 1999). There are however, many ways to informally inculcate mindfulness in our routine – by simply focusing on small everyday tasks (breathing mindfully, savouring a meal, appreciating the beauty of a flower). Small and regular doses of mindfulness practice can work wonders.

What’s more, there is a rich body of research that highlights the benefits of mindfulness in enhancing our physical as well as mental well-being. Mindfulness practice has been associated with reduction in stress, depression and anxiety, better immune functions and motivation to make lifestyle changes among a host of other benefits (Ludwig and Kabat-Zinn 2008; Ruff and Mackenzie 2009). Neuroscience research suggests how mindfulness may have the capacity to alter brain structures and neural connections resulting in better stress regulation (e.g. Creswell et al. 2016, Taren et al. 2015) and reduced anxiety (e.g. Holzel et al., 2013)

Clearly, the rewards of Mindfulness seem to be rich and worthy. This World Health Day, let’s tune in and invest a few moments for our well-being.

And remember, when feeling overwhelmed and burnt out - #let’s talk. Seeking support is a sign of strength and not weakness.

 

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