The latest insights on Mindfulness from Professor Mark Williams

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” ― Dalai Lama XIV, The Art of Happiness

As one of the foremost authorities on mindfulness and the UK’s leading professor on the development of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy [or MBCT as it is known], when I come across a talk or update from Professor Mark Williams, I always take the time to listen and find out what are the latest developments in the field of Mindfulness in the therapy and treatment arena.

Professor Mark Williams is Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology and Honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and was Director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre until his retirement in 2013. Professor Williams, along with colleagues John Teasdale and Zindel Segal, developed Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy for prevention of relapse and recurrence in major depression. However, I came across him through the book that he wrote, “Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world”, that was published in 2011. The core of the book is the eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, that Mark developed. Anyway, back to the latest research updates.

Many of the latest research centres on the benefits of mindfulness, for both general well-being as well as for those that are suffering from mental health issues, such as depression.

  • Amount of time to practice. Shorter mindfulness practices are just as beneficial as longer practices. In fact, practicing for 10 minutes in the morning, as well as the evening, is just as good as setting aside one session of 20 to 30 minutes. So you do not have to put aside such a large part of your day.
  • Frequency versus Duration. It has been found that practicing for 10 minutes per day for 5 days or more per week is better than practicing for one hour once per week
  • Ruminating. We ruminate or spend time inward thinking about things, events, situations and worrying about 47% of the time that we are awake. Mindfulness helps to reduce the levels of stress, helping to flatten out the highs and the lows during the day
  • Age of depression. This shocked me. Depressions starts young. As young as 13 to 15 years of age.
  • 75% of people who have ever been depressed  start before they are 25 years old
  • On average a person with depression has at least 4 months of a year with what is called functional impairment, meaning they are unable to do even the most basic of life’s activities.

Major depression is the No.1 psychological disorder in the western world. It is growing in all age groups, in virtually every community, and the growth is seen most in the young, especially teens.  At the rate of increase, it will be the 2nd most disabling condition in the world by 2020, behind heart disease.

The good news? Practicing Mindfulness therapy programmes such as Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy [MBCT] reduces depression by 50%, yes, it halves the rates of depression and is as effective as antidepressants. About 20% of the population are classified as depressed, that is 1 in 5 of us has a depressive issue. But hang on. What about those of us who are not depressed? The other 4 people? Well, for the majority, we all suffer from stress and anxiety and this is where the practice of stepping back from the current situation, appreciating what you have and being able to move on comes into its own. This is what Professor Williams talks about in the his book. I see no reason why any of us should have to lead lives that are so stressful and full of anxiety. Having practiced mindfulness techniques for the past two years,c I can feel, see and experience the benefits and the more relaxed and unstressed approach to work, life, relationships and general existence. Am I perfect? No, not at all. I still have stressed out days at work – one day this week was particularly terrible, but my ability to bounce back to a more rational mindset, I put down to mindfulness.

As always, I leave you with a quote:

“Whatever may be the tensions and the stresses of a particular day, there is always lurking close at hand the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace.”

Howard Thurman, Meditations of the Heart

The interview was held at the Mindfulness Summit. Please find enclosed a link if you would like to listen to the interview:

Day 1 – An interview with Mark Williams: An Introduction to Mindfulness along with two short mindfulness practices.

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