We have all experienced bouts of depression at some point in our lives, whether it is due to a traumatic negative event or seemingly unexplainable period of low mood. For some of us these bad days and negative moods occur so often that it becomes an overwhelming burden to our daily function and relationships with other people.
For social reasons such as discovery of self-identity, peer pressure, and social exclusion, high school aged adolescents may be especially susceptible to negative mood and stress. These moods, which can include but are not limited to sadness and negative self-worth, can be related to negative thinking patterns that perpetuate the way they feel. Thinking patterns are the way in which a person mentally approaches a situation. For example, a 16-year-old female with a positive thinking pattern may determine that her exclusion from a study group with her peers was due to non-personal factors such as them already having too many members. A person with a negative thinking pattern however, may approach the same situation as being due to personal and offensive factors such as the peers being judgemental of her character. This difference in appraisal can be generalized to account for why some people experience more negative moods than others.
If we could change the way that we appraise situations, is it possible that we can then change the way we feel? Ciesla and colleagues have shown in a recent study focusing on high school aged adolescents that mindfulness is an effective solution to help challenge negative thoughts and rumination (2012). By becoming critically conscious of the five facets of mindfulness, adolescents can learn to appraise situations from a more neutral realistic perspective:
Observing: Being present in the moment is an important factor as it allows for individuals to become aware of what is happening in their internal and external environments. Having an awareness of ones current feelings and physical states is the first step in addressing the root of their mood. We can practice observation by focusing on different parts of our bodies and paying attention to the arousal levels of our five senses.
Describing: By articulating ones observed internal and external states, they are able to sort through their sensations, thoughts and feelings so to identifying whether they are positively or negatively effecting an individuals mood.
Acting With Awareness: Awareness of the present moment also allows for one to think through their actions and decisions before making them. Being conscious of ones actions is to retain a degree of control over ones life, which can empower an individual who feels as though they are merely floating through life.
Non-Judging of Inner Experience: Once one learns how to identify and describe their thoughts, feelings and emotions, it is very important to now become mindful of how they mentally approach them. Judgemental approaches to ones inner experience may lead to rumination, self-blame, or even prompt avoidance of distressing emotions. Mindfulness calls for an individual to be non-judgemental of these inner experiences, which means that the experiencer can separate his or her self from them reducing negativity and stress. This removes the potential identification of oneself with ones negative inner state. In other words, just because you feel anxious and guilty, does not mean that it defines you or your character.
Non-Reactivity to Inner Experience: Allowing yourself to be separate from your inner experiences allows for a mental space in which you are free from the pressures that state might imply. By not reacting to feeling angry for example, you save yourself from ruminating on the fact, and can instead focus on more positive things in your external experience such as a friend trying to uplift the mood (Ciesla et al., 2012).
Accepting the reality of ones inner emotions, thought and feelings as temporary and separate from one’s own character is essential in reducing negative patterns of thought in mindfulness. Teenagers and adults alike can utilize this method to improve their mood and stress levels, and focus on a brighter future!
By Danielle Doreen David
Counselling Services for York Region’s
Student Volunteer Blogger
Ciesla, J. A., Reilly, L. C., Dickson, K. S., Emanuel, A. S., & Updegraff, J. A. (2012). Dispositional mindfulness moderates the effects of stress among adolescents: Rumination as a mediator. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 41(6), 760-770. doi:10.1080/15374416.2012.698724