Sarah’s story: Using mindfulness to overcome depression


New columnist and Australian pioneer of the practice of mindfulness, Charlotte Thaarup, discusses how mindfulness can help you find a peaceful path to living.

It is so rewarding when I hear back from clients about how mindfulness practice has helped them to find their own peaceful path to living including those experiencing mental unwellness. 

Sarah is a New Zealand woman who experienced depression between the ages of 15-22 years old. She has shared her story via a fantastic project called How We Got Happy started by two friends who had beaten depression.

Rather than being a ‘how-to’ guide, the project features a collection of stories about the things that have worked to help a collection of young Kiwis get and stay well.

I first met Sarah at one of my retreats in Bali. She credits that retreat as a turning point for her – one of her first steps to wellness.

She says mindfulness is simple, yet effective. It has helped her to understand why she felt the way she did and that it is an ongoing tool in her journey to staying well.

With the help of a psychologist, Sarah has also managed to stop needing medication. I now catch up with her every few months to help extend her understanding and practice of mindfulness. She also is a dedicated user of my guided meditations, doing it for 10 minutes most days.  

Sarah says having a good structure and routine, particularly around exercise, sleep and preparing good food are very important to her. She has learned to listen to what her body is telling her. 

“I like to be around positive people and am more aware of people who tend to bring negativity energy into a conversation or space,” she says.

“I’ve figured out that I can listen but I don’t have to engage or get sucked into any conversation that I don’t want to be a part of if I don’t find it constructive.

“I think I have become better at listening in conversations where no advice or opinion is needed, just someone listening.”

Sarah has also learnt how to really be in her body, especially in moments when she gets stressed or anxious.

“I’m really lucky to have learnt this tool so early on and it’s something I’ll hold onto and use for life,” Sarah says.

She knows that her body often knows more than her thinking mind and that it has reliable information unlike thinking.

“The body always knows, and thinking is so untrustworthy,” she says. 

She has realised that calming the body down first is a great way to reliably find calm, faster.

The healthier mindset and lifestyle Sarah has wasn’t instantaneous. She admits it took her a fair amount of time and commitment. 

“I believe that there is no finish line to ‘happiness,’ and that it’s more of a continuous journey,” she says.  

One of the most important methods in managing depression and anxiety is to interrupt unhealthy thinking and to soothe the anxious body. We do that by paying attention to body sensations.

Here are my two mindfulness tips for managing depression and anxiety.

Pay attention to body sensations

When we are present with body sensations, then we cannot generate anxiety at the same time. Those sensations can be things such as the sensation of our feet on the floor, what the ears are hearing, or what we are tasting.

While paying attention to body sensations we are also out of our story which tends to generate further anxiety.  It might be bombarding us with: ‘Why did you say that, you are so silly’, or ‘you are just not good enough’, or ‘you are just a failure’. But we can’t think that if our attention is on the body sensation.

Take in the good

Be aware of delight, beauty and be open to awe. Replay a delight moment before you fall asleep. Consider what was seen, what was heard and how it felt. Then allow the experience to intensify and keep it active in the whole body for 20-30 seconds. 

Be mindful for better mental health.

Charlotte Thaarup is also contributing to the University of Newcastle’s new Executive Master of Business Administration (MBA) with modules on Mindful Leadership.