In my some odd six years of experience in clinical counseling I have encountered many troubled people. Most experience chronic bouts of depression while others experience anxiety. It is more common to see people experiencing both depression and anxiety.
In every case of depression I see that the person seems trapped in a fixation on memories of moments and events in the past. The seem stuck in a repeating cycle of re-living sad, disappointing, and/or traumatic moments. It plays over and over like a song stuck in one’s head and the result is the consumption of time for the here and now of the person’s life. Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness grow and entrench themselves in the persons thoughts, beliefs, and worldview. They become withdrawn and lose interest in things they used to find enjoyable.
In each case of anxiety I see the anticipation of some or other catastrophe. It doesn’t matter if the foreseen catastrophe is rational or not or if it can even by concretely identified or not. Every desired activity or plan for the future is met with a wall of things going wrong - not just wrong but catastrophically wrong. A fear of doing develops in the face of expected catastrophe. This is known as a pattern of Catastrophizing.
In these cases there is an awareness of a sad, disappointing, and perhaps even traumatic past. There is present an obsessive dwelling on the negative events while past positive events are set aside or ignored altogether. From this obsessive focus on negative past events comes the
anticipation of an equally negative, if not worse, future for the person. The Self-fulfilling Prophecy ensures self-sabotage in nearly every event thereby creating additional negative memories to be fixated upon and thereby concrete the anxiety side of the person’s problems.
We see in these people an awareness of the past albeit limited to negative outcomes and we also see an awareness of the future that is clouded in exaggerated risk for failure. A wave of seemingly endless “What if” scenarios of catastrophe overcome the person at the mere thought of participating in an event or planning for something as simple as a vacation. The past, the future - what is missing?
The Moment of Now is what is missing from this equation. There is so much regret and remorse from the past mixed with worry for the future that the Here and Now is smothered. There is little to no awareness of the here and now for those experiencing depression and anxiety. But, it is in the moment of now that we all live. Here and now is where the future comes to fruition and memories are made. What we do now constitutes our memories tomorrow and the achieved goals that were planned yesterday. Without now, there is no past and no future and yet in cases of depression and anxiety, the moment of now is ignored and passed over without ever really having experienced it. Being mindful of what is going on around you, to the smallest detail and sensation, is the key to success, positive outlook, and healthy memories.
“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” - Gautama Sidharta, 3000yrs ago
“Anxiety is an illness of the future while depression an illness of the past. Their cure lies in the moment of now” - John M. Duffey, Sr., 2017
Mindfulness is an exercise of the mind that grounds the person in the moment of now. It is a means by which the control of breathing and the focus on the rhythm of breathing allows for the person to escape the regret of yesterday and the worry about tomorrow - you experience right here, right now. This exercise allows for the person to focus only on the sensations of what is happening around him/her - to feel the reality of the environment around the person. The smells in the air, the sounds heard right now, the rhythm of breathing, heart beat, and the pressure of the ground or seat upon the legs and buttocks of the person experiencing the here and now moment.
Through this exercise, the brain becomes better supplied with oxygen, muscles relax, and norepinephrine is released to calm the anxiety symptoms supported by high levels of epinephrine in the brain. Blood pressure also comes down and all of this is experienced throughout the mindfulness exercise. When the exercise ends the person is left with calm and clarity of mind to critically examine and challenge the assumption of the self and the future.
This has been proven in numerous research studies to be highly effective in assisting people in reducing their depression and anxiety symptoms that it has now become an integrated part of psychotherapy. It is most effective in cases of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), PTSD, mild to severe chronic depression, and even stage fright/phobia.