Practicing Mindfulness: Managing Depression Without Medication

Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis, LCMHC
Updated April 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

The acceptance of mindfulness as a beneficial practice has grown in relieving stress and improving mental health. Mindfulness is one of the most popular and productive forms of meditation. It means being aware of your current state, breathing, sensory awareness, and accepting emotions, thoughts, and sensations without judgment. A growing body of research finds that it may also be a way to manage depression.

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Mindfulness may help reduce symptoms of depression

What is mindfulness? 

Mindfulness may already have been present in your life. Being present in the moment and acknowledging feelings is one way to practice mindfulness. Your brain is built to be mindful and potentially succeed through mindful therapy. It is the brain's natural defense against anxiety and other challenging emotions. 

Mindfulness has two main components, including the following: 

  1. Attention: Attention refers to focusing on what is happening in the present moment. You might focus your attention on deep breathing, your senses, and your thoughts. 
  2. Acceptance: Acceptance means allowing those thoughts and feelings to occur without judgment. You can recognize they are there without dwelling on them. 

Mindfulness is a proven method of managing several mental and physical health issues. In reviewing over 200 studies, researchers found that mindfulness-based therapy (MBT) effectively reduced depression, stress, and anxiety. In addition, it was an effective tool for pain management and substance dependency. 

If you are struggling with substance use, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at (800) 662-4357 to receive support and resources. Support is available 24/7.

Studies have found that MBT and meditation for depression can reduce major depressive disorder relapses, reduce physical symptoms like fatigue, pain, and stress, and potentially boost the immune system. 

How to practice mindfulness

When some think of mindfulness or meditation, images of sitting cross-legged and pinching your fingers together while humming may come to mind. This practice is one way to try meditation, but it is not the only one. 

To begin, try to get comfortable. Some people sit or lie down and close their eyes. Pick a position that you can comfortably stay in for a period. Before starting, set a time limit for your session. You can practice any amount of meditation and might choose to start with five or ten minutes in the beginning. As you become more accustomed to the process, you might enjoy a more extended mindfulness practice. 

Some people make mindfulness a part of their daily routine. You can make your mindfulness practice a sacred time of the day and set apart time to relax and enjoy the moment, free of worries and stress. Often, the key to meditation is to relax and stay in the present moment. If you notice your mind wandering, steer it back to the present moment. Focusing on your breathing while reminding yourself of this practice can be helpful. 

Tips for reducing depressive symptoms with mindfulness 

As mindfulness has been proven to reduce depressive symptoms, you might try the following tips to get the most benefit from the exercise. 

Try breathing exercises

When starting your mindfulness practice, research breathing exercises. Studies show that breathing exercises can calm the mind and reduce stress and anxiety. Breathing exercises can also be utilized while meditating to calm and keep your brain occupied. Try the following breathing exercise to get started: 

  1. Close your eyes and focus on the sound of your breathing. 
  2. Breathe in through your mouth for five seconds.
  3. Hold your breath for five seconds.
  4. Exhale your breath for ten seconds.
  5. Continue this exercise until you feel your muscles and heart rate relax. 
  6. Start your mindfulness practice after you feel more relaxed and your heart rate is level. 

You can monitor your heart rate by placing your thumb on the inside of your wrist and your index finger on the back. Apply a fair amount of pressure and adjust your thumb on the surface of your skin until you find your vein. When you are stressed, you might notice your pulse quicken. This response is your body's natural reaction to stressors in your outside environment. As you practice breathing exercises and focus on the present, you may notice your pulse slow down. 

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Don't pass judgment 

In the early stages of practicing mindfulness, you may discover you're judging yourself for the practices. You might worry about what's "normal" or "accepted" about mindfulness or whether other people will think you're "weird" for practicing it. Feeling self-conscious or judging yourself for not meditating the "right" way can be common. If you find your mind wandering, let your thoughts come and go without responding to them in your mind. You can imagine them like leaves flowing down a stream and out of sight. 

Let your mind wander 

You may find your mind wandering after a period of mindfulness, which is normal. When it occurs, allow it to happen before refocusing your attention. You can try thanking your thoughts for arising before imagining them floating away from you. You can retrain your focus on the sensation of your breath in the moment, noting if it feels cooler or warmer on the inhale or exhale and regrounding yourself back into the moment.

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Mindfulness may help reduce symptoms of depression

Connect with a mindfulness professional 

If you are struggling with finding a method that works for you or understanding the benefits of mindfulness, you might benefit from speaking to a counselor. In addition, if you face barriers to counseling, like stress, depression, or financial insecurity, you might find online therapy more cost-effective and accessible. 

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) – which includes both cognitive therapy and mindfulness practices – can be conducted through in-person or online therapy. Online therapy through platforms like BetterHelp has been proven to be as effective as in-person therapy and offers several added benefits, including the convenience of not having to drive to an office for an in-person session. You also are not limited to only seeing counselors in your area, which is beneficial since an MBCT counselor might be challenging to find in rural areas. 

One study found online mindfulness-based cognitive therapy as effective as in-person therapy in treating anxiety and depressive disorders. In addition, participants reported a greater ability to practice mindfulness independently after their sessions.  


Mindfulness is a proven tool to help incite peace, calm, and relief from stress, worry, and depression. Several forms of mindfulness-based therapy can target depressive symptoms. If you're ready to receive support, consider contacting a therapist to gain further insight into your treatment options.
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