Chris Winson lives with depression. He shares with Calm Man some invaluable and insightful mindfulness techniques for those who suffer too.
I was formally diagnosed with depression in late 2016. I recognise now I had been suffering with it for many years but just about managed to hide it. The mask finally broke, leading me to seek medical assistance. Aside from being signed off work and commencing medication I was offered Cognitive Talking Therapy (CBT), also referred to as talking therapy.
My therapist helped me through a CBT approach known as Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT). CFT includes building a practice of mindfulness awareness and taking a more compassionate, gentle approach to your thinking. That doesn’t mean just being kind to yourself. It involves engaging with all your emotions, without judgment rather with encouragement. At the heart of the approach is the three emotional system model – threat system, drive system and soothing system. The model is designed to explain much more complicated neuroscience activity. The soothing system helps to regulate the other two. Without that regulation we can experience heightened threat or drive states, which may impact mental health.
Developing mindful awareness is key to increasing the capability to note and engage with emotions, in a more helpful and healthy way. One way to assist with that is a technique called soothing rhythm breathing , which helps to engage the soothing system and strengthening the ability to regulate both drive and threat systems. It is a simple breathing meditation practice, designed to help improve awareness and is the foundation of further compassionate mind training practices. Sitting on a chair, with a posture reflecting an awareness and focussing upon breathing with a steady rhythm, using counting to help (in- 1,2,3; out-1,2,3). Once settled into the rhythm, allowing your awareness to spread to your body and bringing a warm, soft expression to your face, maybe a gentle smile. Finally become aware of all the surrounding environment, before reverting to normal breathing and ending the practice.
From this foundation you can explore other meditative practices which help grow self-compassion and emotional regulation. There are specific techniques including imagining what a compassionate self looks like or a place which embodies compassion, which you can use to help ground yourself in. It is not about avoiding thoughts that may arise. Rather it is about engaging with all the parts of you, including those emotions that we sometimes hide from or hide behind, such as anger or shame.
Taking moments through the day, to just stop and be still, to check in with yourself and experience what is happening right there and then is helpful too. Stopping and using a simple three minute breathing exercise can be very helpful. Allowing yourself to focus on breathing and then connecting with what is really happening, considering how you feel. What thoughts are present, what emotions do they raise within you ? How are they influencing your actions, what would be helpful for you right now?
There is a large amount of scientific evidence and research that supports the benefits of taking a mindful compassionate approach. This research from the British Psychological Society highlights the key elements, including the evolutionary development of our brains and our social relationships, including those with ourselves. It considers how our brain has evolved to look after us, while that same evolution can cause us issues in modern life. It appears to be effective at addressing self-critical and self-perfectionistic thinking which are often part of depression.
Taking a more mindful approach enables us to be more aware of our emotions and thoughts. This provides an opportunity to work with them and focus on the underlying issues they are trying to highlight.
Chris publishes a post each Friday on his thoughts as he learns to accept and live with depression. https://underwaterbreathes.wordpress.com/
The intention is to raise awareness of depression and to share experience, so that people who do not suffer will gain some understanding and for the many people who also fight a daily battle to manage their mental health , to offer some things that he finds can help.
You can also follow Chris on Twitter @chisi_98. You can also join in on Twitter with #365daysofcompassion and post a daily compassionate message, quote or article to help spread some compassion, both to yourself and others.