Breathing meditations, yoga, and conquering mindfulness of thoughts and body could be effective in reducing the chance of a relapse in people with depression and anxiety, according to a new study.
The study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, found patients who received mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) had more than 30 percent reduced risk of depressive relapse within a 60-week follow-up period compared to those who didn’t.
Mindfulness-based therapy includes learning how to focus attention where the individual chooses it to be using awareness of the breath and body sensations. This develops mindfulness of thoughts and body. As awareness of body sensations increases an individual learns to not react to every change and how to become less reactive.
Professor of Psychiatry at The University of Sydney, Ian Hickie, said MBCT is a growing area for tackling depression rather than standard cognitive behavioural therapy.
“Partly because people like to use it. It’s less theoretical -- you just have to do it; you don’t have to understand it," Hickie told The Huffington Post Australia.
“When people experience that a treatment makes a difference, they are much more likely to persist with it."
There has been far less research on the long-term prevention of depressive relapse with research largely focused on short-term alleviation -- keeping people alive and well.
According to psychologist at the Melbourne Mindfulness Institute, Sarah Francis, there are a number of different mindfulness-based therapies and the research evidence for effectiveness is building.
There is now neuroscience that points to the neurological changes that occur in the brains of those who undertake these meditation oriented therapies.
"Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy is a growing area for tackling depression," Hickie said.
Francis -- who is trained and experienced in mindfulness theory and practice -- said the psychologists she works with mainly use mindfulness integrated cognitive behavioural therapy (MiCBT) which is similar to MBCT.
"One of the features of depression is ruminative thinking -- going over and over our difficult or troublesome thoughts," Francis said.
"The mindfulness exercises are designed to make the patient aware of what their mind and body is up to moment by moment and learn to take charge."
Once they have learned the meditation exercises, the patient will have the tools to manage their well-being through the ups and downs of life.
Francis ran a study looking at nine consecutive eight-week programs using MiBCT. In over 80 percent of cases, patients had significant improvements in anxiety, depression, stress, mindfulness and overall life satisfaction.
"As soon as you notice your mind has wandered off, you bring it back," Francis said.
"The more you can do that, the more you can decide what the focus of your thoughts should be. Similarly as you notice some sensations you learn to be able to sit with them and let them settle without reacting.
"The amount of research into this area has increased enormously over the last five years and we are excited to be planning a randomized controlled trial using MiCBT through Monash University later in the year."
Professionals are needed far less when patients focus on using sport or mindfulness-based practices to fight depression, anxiety, arousal and agitation, according to Hickie.
Many people prefer these strategies because they are in charge of it themselves.
“They can do it without the help of professionals and build it into their everyday life,” Hickie said.