Being kind to ourselves is key in the battle against depression

We tend to be our own worst critics and fall into the habit of being tough on ourselves. In people with depression, this negativity can tip over into feelings of worthlessness, even self-hate. No depression can get better if that state of mind persists, but it’s not an easy matter to pull out of.

Now Exeter University together with Oxford, and Magdeburg in Germany, has come up with a new form of cognitive behaviour therapy that can make us be kind to ourselves and prime us for healing.

When I look back I realise I had to learn how to go easy on myself because I’m naturally a tough self-critic. One of the ways was to build in small rewards for jobs well done, even just saying to myself “that wasn’t too bad”.

In my worst moments I came up with a list of affirmations I would repeat like a mantra to cancel out the negative thoughts.

Mindfulness is being in the moment and research combines it with ­cognitive therapy.

This mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) can promote ­self-kindness in people with a history of depression making them feel safe and relaxed. The research shows MBCT may help break the cycle of highly critical thoughts and feelings of worthlessness, which often lead people with depression to relapse.

A group of 50 people who were in remission from depression but were at risk of a relapse were split into two groups, one of which was given an eight-week MBCT treatment while the other group was not.

In the study, participants treated with MBCT showed a pattern of being kind to themselves, along with feeling less threatened, safer and more relaxed, all of which are important for regeneration and healing.

What is MBCT? It’s an effective group-based psychological treatment that helps people change the way they think and feel about their experiences and learn skills that make further episodes of depression less likely. So it helps people manage their depression.

Previous research has shown people with recurrent depression benefit particularly from it when they learn to become more self-compassionate.

Dr Hans Kirschner, of the University of Magdeburg, the first author of the study, said: “It’s encouraging to see that an evidence-based treatment like MBCT can help individuals with ­recurrent depression to move to a kinder self-view and a related body state of safety.

“We hope this can strengthen ­individuals’ resilience and prevent depressive relapse, though this must be tested formally in future research.”