I’ve been teaching Mindfulness as a tool to deal with depression and anxiety for a number of years, and the other day, a friend forwarded me this article from the NY Times, “Hazy Recall as a Signal Foretelling Depression.” It talks about the connection between depression and “overgeneral memory” — the tendency to remember the past in broad and vague terms. The way overgeneral memory works is this: When someone is asked to recall something from the past, they might say something like, “I remember one time my dad took us to a fair at the beach and they had a big carousel, and I got to have a ride,” or they might say, “I remember my dad used to take us to the beach in the summers.” The second example is a general memory, and there is growing evidence to suggest that overgeneral memories are associated with depression.
The article notes that mindfulness, however, can help with this tendency. My own observations support this too. When I’m working with people who have a tendency toward depression and anxiety I often notice that when the feelings become strongest the generalizations do too. We start to have more thoughts like, “I’ll never feel better,” and “I always screw up like that!” Mindfulness practice helps, because we train ourselves to make note of accurate, specific details in both our memories and also our present moment experience. This serves as an antidote to this tendency to get caught in general misery. Even something as simple as adding the word “sometimes” can break through a feeling of hopelessness to remind someone that it isn’t always this way. Then remembering specific good moments grounds the mind back in reality and offers a focal point to lead out of the whirlwind of strong feelings.
This article, by the founders of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy describes research showing how the workshop helps people train their minds in specificity, and offers evidence that this eight-week MBCT course can actually teach people to change these habits. It is a great honor to be able to continue to offer this workshop that has helped so many people, and starting next month, we will be presenting it at Midtown Marriage and Family Therapy. We will be starting the next one on February 3rd. All are welcome.