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Carl Benedict offers online counseling on his web site Serenity Online Therapy.
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Mindfulness Online Therapy for Anxiety and Depression

Over the past several decades, research on mindfulness has had a major impact on the treatment of depression and anxiety. One of the pioneers of this research is Jon Kabat-Zinn, whose classic book, Full Catastrophe Living, which I read 15 years ago, changed my life and the way I do therapy. I no longer see myself as a "psychotherapist" but rather as a teacher and coach, and what I teach is mindfulness.

Most of my clients who are struggling with depression and anxiety live in their thoughts. They chronically ruminate in specific patterns of thinking, such as feeling hopeless, being hard on themselves, or expecting something terrible to happen. Yet, if they could step back and see the bigger picture, they would realize that the vast majority of the moments in their lives are OK or even good, but they do not know how to efficiently find that bigger picture, which is why I teach them mindfulness.

For example, you might be walking in a park on a beautiful spring day, but you’re unable to experience the beauty around you - Mindfulness allows you to enjoy a beautiful spring day.the fragrant honeysuckles, singing birds, caressing breeze, and puffy white clouds.  Why? Because your mind is ruminating on the cancer you fear will kill you one day even though your doctor says you're in excellent health. So, you continue walking through the park, safe and sound, yet on the verge of a panic attack because your ruminating mind has hijacked your attention from the here and now and transported it into a self-created world of catastrophe.

Here is a simple truth: No matter how good things are in the present moment, if you obsessively focus on the scary stories in your mind, then you’ll develop an anxiety disorder, and if you constantly ruminate about what a horrible failure you are or how hopeless your life is, then you’ll become depressed.

So, why do some of us suffer from such depressing and scary patterns of thinking?  Well, most likely we acquired them in childhood from growing up in a painfully dysfunctional or tragic environment, such as alcoholism at home, bullying at school, or even living with a seriously ill parent.  

For example, if you grew up in the chaos of family alcoholism, then most likely your immature brain interpreted your father's abuse as meaning you were bad, and the constant chaos as meaning life is just one disaster after another, filling you with shameDysfunctional families produce shame and fear in children. and fear that became your lower brain’s automatic thinking that fueled depression and anxiety. Of course, those upsetting emotions were natural reactions in childhood because you were trapped in a depressing and scary environment. However, these same patterns of thinking can continue fueling your depression and anxiety, particularly during times of stress, for years or even decades after you've escaped childhood dysfunction and established your own safe environment because they're so well ingrained in your brain and so automatically triggered in certain situations.

So, how can mindfulness help? To answer this question, we must understand the difference between our mindful brain and our lizard brain. Our highly evolved, mindful brain resides behind our forehead, sees things as they really are in the here and now, and has the remarkable ability to observe itself. Our ancient lizard brain, however, sits above our spinal cord, is stuck in the past, is knee-jerk reactive and operates on automatic pilot according to simple stimulus and response, and is always on the lookout for threats based on past pain. Thus, when we operate from our mindful brain, we are using the full power of our astonishing human brain to help us navigate life's challenges, but when we operate from our lizard brain, we are not much smarter than an iguana. When we operate from our lower lizard brain, we are not much smarter than an iguana.Thus, when the alarm bells go off, our lizard brain has no ability to step back and ask, "Is this a real threat or a false alarm?" However, our mindful brain has that ability, if we know how to find it, which then brings the full power of thousands of years of human evolution to the challenges of the present moment.

So, to summarize: Anxiety and depression are programmed into your lizard brain, so when they're triggered, you become lost in a part of your brain that is not much smarter than an iguana. So, by learning to operate from your mindful brain, which can be difficult during stressful times, you can bring the most powerful part of your brain to the challenges of depression, anxiety, and other problems of life. The difference between operating from your mindful brain or lizard brain is like the difference between using a scientific calculator or your fingers to solve a complicated math problem. So, by learning mindfulness, you can learn to use all of your brain to cope with depression and anxiety.

If you'd like help in learning to bring mindfulness to your depression and anxiety, then click on the sunset photo below to found out how to begin therapy.

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Copyright 2005-2022 Serenity Online Therapy
All Text and many photos by Carl Benedict

"Our very life depends on everything's recurring till we answer from within."  Robert Frost