A Mindfulness App for Depression and Anxiety

October 1, 2019
Helané Wahbeh, Science

It seems like everywhere you turn nowadays, there is something about mindfulness — mindfulness apps, mindfulness for productivity, mindfulness for sleep, etc. Mindfulness seems like the new magic bullet for people with a personal growth or self-transformation interest. But what is it exactly? Mindfulness, as a modern-day concept, originated in Eastern contemplative traditions and comes from the word Sati which means “awareness.” Jon Kabat-Zinn, who trail-blazed mindfulness-based clinical applications in the West in the 1980s, described it as: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Starting with his program Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) — originally used for people with back pain — in the past 30 years there has been a huge outpouring of mindfulness-based therapies for everything from depression to addiction to eating disorders. There seems to be a mindfulness-based program for everything. Why is that? Well, for one, it works!

There is growing evidence that being aware of our internal and external states in the present moment is good for our health. Our Western culture is so externally focused with stimuli coming from all directions that it takes conscious intention to be present and tuned in to what we are feeling. Our culture’s focus on marketing and advertising also trains us to avoid difficult or challenging emotions and encourage us to seek out quick fixes rather than allowing ourselves to be loving and accepting of ourselves even if it is uncomfortable in the moment. Much of the mindfulness practice for a Westerner is spent increasing our tolerance and resilience to the incredible broad spectrum of our amazing emotions and, while it’s a process, the benefits are incredibly valuable.

I spent many years working with combat veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). These men and women had experienced debilitating trauma and they coped by avoiding their emotions. When the trauma originally occurred, they could not afford to feel the emotions it elicited in the moment to ensure their survival. When they were home and “safe,” their anxiety and fear responses were still present and very visceral. They couldn’t help their PTSD reactions and wanted to avoid them at all costs. Asking them to face their intense emotions as a way to heal seemed ‘crazy’ to many of them! But, through mindfulness exercises, we would just do a few seconds at a time building up their tolerance and trust that the emotions are transitory, temporary and that they could feel them, accept them, and eventually love and accept themselves.

In my mindfulness meditation research, I found that combat veterans with PTSD preferred one-on-one interventions because they felt safer being vulnerable in that environment than in a group setting. However, even after shifting to a one-on-one format, many interested veterans would still not show up to our meetings because they just couldn’t bear leaving their homes. I started imagining a way where I could give them the experience of mindfulness at home. Thus, the Internet Mindfulness Meditation Intervention (IMMI) program was born, and we’ve found that many people, not just veterans, actually prefer this format to group and even one-on-one meetings.

IMMI includes six one-hour weekly video sessions that can be accessed online, anytime and anywhere. Between sessions there are about 30 minutes of guided meditation home-practice accessed with the IMMI smartphone app. The videos, workbook, and home-guided meditations help participants understand their personal reactions to stress, teach them skills to modify their stress reactions and promote their desire for self-care and feelings of competence and mastery. Each session includes information on stress, relaxation, meditation, and mind-body interaction, formal and informal meditation practices and conversation about problem-solving techniques related to the participant’s positive experiences and difficulties with practicing mindfulness.
We have tested the IMMI program in many groups of people and found a variety of benefits. IONS is currently conducting a study with older adults (50+ years old) who live in the US and are experiencing mood symptoms like depression and anxiety. If you are interested in learning more about this study, please read on!

To learn more about our Internet Mindfulness Meditation Intervention (IMMI – Phase 3) Study at IONS, please see the information below.

This study is investigating the effects of a six-week online IMMI mindfulness intervention to evaluate its effects on depression symptoms in adults. We are seeking 100 adults — 50 years and older who currently live in the US — to participate in this study. This study requires no in-person visits and can be done from the comfort of your own home. Participants will complete online surveys prior to and after completing the IMMI program and will be compensated with a $50 Visa Gift Card once they have completed the study. Please click the link below to see if you are eligible to participate in the IMMI study!

Take Eligibility Survey

About the Author

Helané WahbehHelané Wahbeh, ND, MCR, is the Director of Research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Neurology at Oregon Health & Science University. Dr. Wahbeh is clinically trained as a naturopathic physician and research trained with a Master of Clinical Research and two post-doctoral research fellowships. She has published on and spoken internationally about her studies on complementary and alternative medicine, mind-body medicine, stress, and posttraumatic stress disorder and their relationships to physiology, health, and healing.

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