If you have depression, anxiety, PTSD and/or another mental health illness or issue you’re dealing with, then mindfulness - which is a core component of dialectical behaviour therapy1 - is a practice which may have been recommended to you. If this was the case, then there were indeed good reasons for this, since mindfulness has been proven to have a wealth of benefits, including:
- Reduced symptoms of depression2, and reduced probability of having another major depressive episode1;
- Reduced symptoms of anxiety2;
- Reduced symptoms of PTSD3;
- Improved ability to manage symptoms of bipolar disorder (including helping to prevent a manic or hypomanic episode from taking place)4;
- Decreased likelihood of resorting to binge eating and other self-sabotaging behaviours1;
- Improved quality of sleep5;
- Higher relationship satisfaction6;
- Reduced severity of chronic pain1;
- Improved ability to cope with difficult and challenging situations and experiences1;
- More peace, contentment and enjoyment in everyday life7.
And, to help you achieve some of these objectives, in this blog post, we'd like to share with you three DBT mindfulness exercises for depression, anxiety & PTSD - each of which have been taken straight from our Depression Bootcamp The Foundations Of Mindfulness.
DBT Mindfulness Exercise #1 For Depression, Anxiety & PTSD: The 5-4-3-2-1 Mindfulness Technique
The first mindfulness exercise we’d like to share with you only takes a few minutes, and you can begin it by sitting down or lying somewhere comfortable, and simply taking a few deep breaths … breathing in through your nose … and then out through your mouth … in through your nose … and then out through your mouth. Then, while you continue to do so, gradually try to make yourself aware of:
- 5 THINGS YOU CAN SEE: For example, the table in front of you, the nice painting on the wall, the fridge magnet you bought on vacation, the clear blue sky outside, and the leafy green tree across the road.
- 4 THINGS YOU CAN FEEL: Once you’ve gotten in touch with five things you can see, then – while you continue breathing in through your nose, and out through your mouth – try to bring awareness to four things you can feel. For example, the chair that’s holding up your weight, your clothes against your legs, the soft carpet beneath your feet, or a loose strand of hair brushing against your face.
- 3 THINGS YOU CAN HEAR: Next, bring awareness to three things you can hear. For example, the tik-tok of a clock, a bird chirping outside, or the sound of your children playing in the living room.
- 2 THINGS YOU CAN SMELL: Then, try to get in touch with two things you can smell. If you try but don’t find yourself able to smell anything, then try to summon up your two favourite smells. For example, the scent of freshly cut grass, or the aroma of a steaming mug of hot chocolate.
- 1 THING YOU CAN TASTE: Lastly, try to be mindful of one thing you can taste (or imagine yourself tasting).
Like we said, this exercise only takes a few minutes, but it’s really effective at getting you out of your head and grounding you in the present moment. In fact, it’s such a helpful mindfulness exercise that when The Depression Project posted it on its Facebook page, it went viral, and was shared over 1.5 million times!
DBT Mindfulness Exercise #2 For Depression, Anxiety & PTSD: Labelling Your Intrusive, Negative And/Or Worrying Thoughts
To practice this mindfulness strategy, begin by closing your eyes, and taking a few slow, deep breaths. Then, for each of the intrusive, negative and/or worrying thoughts that you are experiencing, label each thought as just that – a thought.
For example, let’s say that you’re having the negative thoughts “I can’t do anything right” and “I’m such a failure”. In this case, try repeating to yourself:
“I’m having the thought that I can’t do anything right … I’m having the thought that I’m a failure …”
Or, “the thought that ‘I can’t do anything right’ has popped into my head … and the thought that ‘I’m a failure’ has also popped into my head”.
This strategy of labelling your intrusive, negative and/or worrying thoughts like so can help you to observe them as exactly what are they – thoughts – as opposed to facts8. And, when you can see that your thoughts are just thoughts and nothing more, you’re much less likely to buy into them so much, and as a result, they’ll likely lose some of their power over you.
DBT Mindfulness Exercise #3 For Depression, Anxiety & PTSD: Mindfully Sitting With Your Emotions
To practice this exercise, once again get yourself comfortable, close your eyes, and take a few slow, deep breaths. Then, focus your attention on how you feel right now, starting with considering whether overall, you feel “good”, “bad” or somewhere in the middle. Then, once you’re aware and in tune with how you feel in general, go deeper, and try to pinpoint the specific emotions you feel. For example:
- Do you feel anger?
- Do you feel fear?
- Do you feel content?
- Do you feel worry?
- Do you feel excitement?
- Do you feel unease?
- Do you feel shame?
- Do you feel panic?
- Do you feel calm?
- Do you feel envy?
- Do you feel heartache?
- Do you feel resilient?
- Do you feel sadness?
- Do you feel anticipation?
- Do you feel disappointed?
- Do you feel upset?
- Do you feel confident?
- Do you feel determined?
Really try to pinpoint the specific emotions you feel, and once you’ve done so, observe them without judgment, without trying to suppress them, and without trying to change them. As you do so, it’s common to find that your emotions are similar to waves at the beach – rising in magnitude, reaching a peak, and then decreasing1. Try to see this cycle through for the emotions you’re feeling, observing where they’re at on the wave until they diminish. Then, once they’ve done so, bring this exercise to a close by breathing deeply to help you relax, focusing all of your attention on each breath as you do so.
While the benefits of this mindfulness exercise may not be immediately obvious, practicing sitting with your emotions like this is really useful – because the more you do so, the more you’ll likely find that you’re able to tolerate and control them, and the less and less power they’ll have to overwhelm you1.
We hope you find these three DBT mindfulness exercises for depression, anxiety & PTSD helpful!
All our love,
The Depression Project Team.
McKay, M., Wood, J. C., & Brantley, J. (2019). The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance. New Harbinger Publications.
Schreiner, I. & Malcolm, J. P. (2008). The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation: Changes in Emotional States of Depression, Anxiety, and Stress. Behaviour Change, 25(3), 156-168.
Reutter, K. (2019). The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for PTSD: Practical Exercises for Overcoming Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. New Harbinger Publications.
Van Dijk, S. (2009). The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook for Bipolar Disorder: Using DBT to Regain Control of Your Emotions and Your Life. New Harbinger Publications.
Harvard Medical International. (2004). The Benefits Of Mindfulness. Harvard Women’s Health Watch, 11(6), 1-3.
Barnes, S., Brown, K. W., Krusemark, E., Campbell, W. K., & Rogge, R. D. (2007). The Role Of Mindfulness In Romantic Relationship Satisfaction And Responses To Relationship Stress. Journal Of Marital And Family Therapy, 33(4), 482–500.
Pederson, L. & Pederson, C. (2019). The Expanded Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training Manual, 2nd Edition: DBT for Self-Help and Individual & Group Treatment Settings. PESI Publishing.
Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment Of Borderline Personality Disorder. Guilford Press.
P.S. If you'd like to learn more about mindfulness as well as a variety of additional exercises you can practice to reap its benefits, then we encourage you to take our Foundations Of Mindfulness Bootcamp - which is one of many that are included as part of our Depression Bootcamps Membership Platform.