Using mindfulness to tackle depression: Sarah's story

Mindfulness can help balance out the negative thoughts that come with depression. Sarah Brown, 56, from London, has microvascular angina and turned to mindfulness to improve her quality of life and happiness.

Sarah Brown

Sarah Brown (right), with her daughter Eleanor

“My mother died of breast cancer and I learnt I had microvascular angina. I live with severe pain along the left side of my body, migraines and sensitivity to light and noise. I was a midwife, but had to retire early because of the chronic pain. I thought: ‘I don’t know how to cope with this.’

A midwife’s favourite word is ‘breathe’. We say it to women all the time – we know breathing and relaxation are so important.

I gradually accepted it’s OK that I feel this way, it’s understandable. I have no control over the pain, but I can control how I respond to it

I saw a physiotherapist after my diagnosis, who mentioned mindfulness, and she taught me a breathing exercise. Then I found a book about using mindfulness to deal with pain. After that, I signed up for an eight-week ‘mindfulness for health’ course.

With depression you feel worthless. I felt my body had failed me, and I was a failure as I hadn’t been able to manage the pain. I gradually accepted it’s OK that I feel this way, it’s understandable. I have no control over the pain, but I can control how I respond to it. I am still fearful but I will ride the storm, and stay calm.

One of the most common mindfulness techniques is body scanning [focusing on different parts of your body, moving from head to feet]. I also use apps or download meditations. I do 10 minutes a day, yoga once a week and tai chi. It reconnects your mind and body and helps with the emotions that come with pain.

You can also practise mindfulness informally. I’ll go for a walk and be conscious of the light, of the trees, of the birds singing.

I’ve been doing mindfulness for five years, and it gets easier. It helps with depression, but also my fear and anxiety about going to hospital. I’m now very conscious of how I’m feeling, and balancing my negative thoughts with gratitude. I’ve stopped thinking: ‘Why me?’ I have a quality of life and happiness that I didn’t have before.”

What is mindfulness?

Woman relaxing wearing headphonesPaying more attention to how you feel and the world around you can improve mental wellbeing. This is sometimes called mindfulness. It’s recommended by NICE as a way to prevent depression if you’ve had three or more bouts. Some studies suggest mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (incorporating cognitive behavioural therapy techniques) is as good as antidepressants at preventing depression relapses.

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