According to a new study out of Lund University in Sweden, mindfulness can be just as effective as your typical therapist who practices cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which necessitates focusing on negative thoughts and having a discussion, as well as running experiments, on them.  

The study, led by Professor Jan Sundquist, was held at 16 primary health care centers in southern Sweden. The researchers trained two mindfulness instructors at each health care center during a six-day training course. Participants of the study, who suffered from depression, anxiety, or severe stress, were gathered into groups of 10 for structured group mindfulness treatment. The patients also received a private training program, and were asked to record their exercises and thoughts in a journal. For eight weeks, all 215 of them went through mindfulness therapy, then answered questions about their depression and anxiety. The researchers found that self-reported symptoms of depression and anxiety had decreased during the treatment period.

“The study’s results indicate that group mindfulness treatment, conducted by certified instructors in primary health care, is as effective a treatment method as individual CBT for treating depression and anxiety,” Sundquist said in a press release. “This means that group mindfulness treatment should be considered as an alternative to individual psychotherapy, especially at primary health care centers that can’t offer everyone individual therapy.”

The notion of mindfulness dates back to ancient Buddhism, and is an essential part of the religion. It involves accepting the present moment and focusing on the sensations, feelings, and thoughts that are happening right now. Being able to reduce the extraneous "noise" from anxiety, worrying, and fear can help people focus on and live in the moment, and also allow them to lessen unnecessary stress.

Living in the present, and being “mindful” of simple things like drinking tea or taking walks — the small details in life — can help people with anxiety, Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders, told Harvard Health Publications. “People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power. They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit… You might think, ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that — a thought, and not a part of my core self.”

One of the main proponents of mindfulness, Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and author Thich Nhat Hahn teaches ordinary people how to focus on breathing and dwelling in the moment — even if times are rough. “The therapeutic power of meditation is very great,” he noted in a 2010 interview with the Huffington Post. “The practices of mindful breathing, sitting meditation and walking meditation release tensions in the body and also in the mind… We humans have lost the wisdom of genuinely resting and relaxing. we worry too much. We don’t allow our bodies to heal, and we don’t allow our minds and hearts to heal. Meditation can help us embrace our worries, our fear, our anger, and that is very healing.”

Source: Sundquist J, Lilja A, Palmer K, Memon A, Wang X, Johansson L. “Mindfulness group therapy in primary care patients with depression, anxiety and stress and adjustment disorders: randomized controlled trial.” The British Journal of Psychiatry, 2014.