When you have a cut, it often bleeds. People can see the wound, and acknowledge that you are injured. Mental health is much different. It cannot be “seen” in the concrete way we are used to associating pain with.
But in its own way, mental health is very visible—it just takes knowing the signs. And while we may view physical and mental health a bit differently, one thing is for sure: Western medicine reaches for a bandage first and foremost, often in the form of antidepressants and other medications.
Anxiety disorders plague more than one in four adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18, and are typically treated with such forms of medicine as mentioned above. What if there was another way to help them live a relatively healthy childhood without first resorting to pills?
A team of researchers from the University of Cincinnati wanted to explore alternative treatment options that focus on solutions involving the mind, instead of pharmaceuticals.
Over the course of 12 weeks, the researchers examined nine participants between the ages of 9 and 16 who were all diagnosed with anxiety disorders. Each of them underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans while they practiced mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and different forms of therapeutic techniques like meditation, yoga, and learning how to pay nonjudgmental attention to one’s life.
The study’s co-author, Sian Cotton, director of the UC’s Center for Integrative Health and Wellness, noted that the anxiety of their patients was dramatically reduced following treatment. Cotton also acknowledged that the more mindfulness the participants practiced, the less anxious they reported feeling.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, provides a breakthrough for holistic treatments for such mental health issues, as it shows how mindfulness therapies may provide a treatment for childhood anxiety disorders.
“These integrative approaches expand traditional treatments and offer new strategies for coping with psychological distress,” explains Cotton.
“Mindfulness-based therapeutic interventions promote the use of meditative practices to increase present-moment awareness of conscious thoughts, feelings, and body sensations in an effort to manage negative experiences more effectively,” Cotton continues.
Many children with anxiety disorders typically have poor coping skills in the presence of stress. But 80 percent of children with diagnosed anxiety disorders and 60 percent of those diagnosed with depression do not get help. Mindfulness exercises may, indeed, be able to allow children a safe and effective way to cope, even preventing relapses of depression or anxiety.
It may also provide people reluctant to taking medications another option. “Increasingly, patients and families are asking for additional therapeutic options, in addition to traditional medication-based treatments, that have proven effectiveness for improved symptom reduction. Mindfulness-based therapies for mood disorders is one such example with promising evidence,” Cotton notes.
The 12-week experiment showed the study’s researchers that mindfulness therapy boosted neural activity in a part of the brain responsible for processing cognitive and emotion information called the cingulate. Furthermore, they found that the therapy worked to increase brain activity in the insula, which is the part of the brain that monitors how the body feels on a psychological level.
“This raises the possibility that treatment-related increases in brain activity during emotional processing may improve emotional processing in anxious youth who are at risk for developing bipolar disorder,” explains fellow co-author Dr. Jeffrey Strawn, a professor in UC’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, and the director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Program. “The path from understanding the effects of psychotherapy on brain activity to the identification of treatment response is a challenging one, and will require additional studies of emotional processing circuits.”
What To Practice?
As we saw in the study, practicing meditation, yoga, or learning to be aware of what happens in your life from a non judgmental point of view (shifting your consciousness) are effective means to reduce anxiety.
Here are a few techniques in meditation that can help not only quiet the mind but also visualize your what’s happening in your life in a way that is not judgmental, click here.
Related CE Article: A Buddhist Monk Disciple of Thich Nhat Hanh Explains Mindfulness For Times of Conflict