Meditation for depression is one of my latest discoveries. As most people, I was focused on being productive as a multitasker and never thought that breathing and sitting still would be so enjoyable and simply liberating. I wasn’t taking it seriously and considered to be a complete waste of time until I found myself in the black hole of depression.
Depressed and constantly agitated with anxiety and stress, I desperately needed some peace of mind and relaxation of aching muscles. Benzodiazepines were not an option because of their addictiveness, so the peace had to come from within. Having nothing to lose, I turned to meditation for depression, hoping that it would solve my problem, and that’s when everything started.
What is meditation exactly?
I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed: there is no globally agreed definition of meditation. Generally speaking, the term “meditation” refers to a variety of religious or spiritual practices aimed at training the mind, achieving full control over one’s mind and body, and mastering the skill of unconditional happiness.
„a practice that makes it possible to cultivate and develop certain basic positive human qualities [loving-kindness and compassion] in the same way as other forms of training make it possible to play a musical instrument or acquire any other skill.”
It sounds simple, but doesn’t really tell much. I guess the best way to find out what it is and how it works is to try meditation for depression yourself.
Does meditation help with depression and anxiety?
When it comes to overcoming depression, meditation proved to be as effective as antidepressants. A recent Oxford study revealed that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy prevented depression relapse in just as many cases as medication (44% to 47%), and contrary to the latter, it has no unpleasant side effects. Sounds like it is worth trying, right?
Another research confirmed this finding, which means that when it comes to treating depression, meditation definitely should be taken into account as a part of the treatment, because it allows one to break the self-feeding cycle of depressed mood and negative thoughts.
Now, I am not suggesting that you should stop taking your meds right away. Even though meditation is a powerful tool, you should follow the advice of your psychiatrist and stick to the meds prescribed. The best results can be achieved if you combine the two methods, and go to therapy to deal with the skeletons in the closet.
Here are the reasons why I meditate, and why I think you should give it a try.
Meditation changes the brain
Feeling dumb when depressed? It’s actually pretty normal. Depression can affect the strength and size of certain brain areas such as the hippocampus, which plays an important role in memory and spatial orientation. According to a study conducted in 1996 at the University of Washington (St. Luis), the hippocampus was found to be underdeveloped in depression sufferers, and its degradation progressed with time.
Impossible as it may seem, it’s been proven that thoughts (mental events) do affect matter (human brain)! Numerous studies have shown that there is no better way to regenerate your hippocampus than meditation practice. Meditation reverses the process of hippocampus’s weakening and increases brain’s gray matter, improving one’s cognitive functions such as memory and attention. It also boosts the levels of serotonin and neurotransmitters, strengthens your pre-frontal cortex, which has a lot to do with emotional balance and reduces the size of the amygdala, which is the “fear center” responsible for the fight-or-flight response to the stimuli.
So, in short, people who meditate regularly are smarter and less stressed.
Meditation gives me peace of mind
When I feel depressed, my mind drifts off, focusing on the gap between my expectations and the reality, or imaginary and potential problems there is no point in solving right now. I feel as if I had no control over what is going on in my head. Will I be satisfied with my new job? What if…?
Meditation for depression calms my mind by bringing my attention to the present moment and thus allows me to break free from the endless cycle of rumination and connect deeper with my body. Meditation is not about getting rid of those negative emotions. It’s rather about acknowledging all my emotions and intrusive thoughts without judgment and observing them until they fade away. By letting go of unnecessary worries, I can focus on what is really important in life and be like a lotus blossom on a calm water surface.
Meditation combats my anxiety
On some days, my anxiety gets really bad, especially when I am overwhelmed with a bigger amount of urgent tasks and issues that need to be taken care of ASAP. Add to it a pinch of city traffic, a handful of phone calls, and some minor failure, and you have a recipe for an anxiety attack.
A meditation session calms the crazy butterflies in my stomach and brings me back to the present moment. Deep mindful breathing eases muscle tensions and makes falling asleep much easier than when you have racing thoughts and a crazy heartbeat.
Meditation for depression teaches me self-love, self-acceptance, and gratitude
Whenever I burst our with rage for no serious reason, it makes me think of myself as a bad person and I feel really down for a longer time. The intrusive thought that I am not worth of love doesn’t want to go away, and feelings of guilt and shame are very likely to will ruin my whole day if I don’t do something about it.
But after dedicating just fifteen minutes to meditate on self-forgiveness, I am able to acknowledge that I am a good girl, who only sometimes makes really bad choices. But that doesn’t make her any less loveable.
There’s no such thing as bad meditation
For a perfectionist such as I am, this is a real game changer. Nobody is going to evaluate or criticize your efforts. No matter how much you suck at keeping your focus on your breath, and how many times your thoughts drift off, every meditation session is just as valid and successful, even if you’re far from achieving a perfect lotus position. If you can’t dedicate more than five minutes each time, it’s fine. It is the regularity that counts. That’s why it is called practice.
I am trying to meditate every single day. Sometimes, when I’m short of time, it’s just a walking meditation on the way to the climbing gym, or I try to mindfully wash the dishes (which is not my favorite household task, to say the least).
Meditation For Depression: How To Get Started
Meditation is not about clearing your mind of all thoughts. It’s rather about awareness of our thoughts. It’s about directing your attention inside and staying aware of the present moment without any judgment, whatever you’re doing. Have 10 minutes? Stop staring at your phone, close your eyes, focus on your breath… and you’re already meditating!
Meditation is simple, but not easy at all. In fact, it’s quite challenging, sometimes even painful when we are confronted with our true emotions. Being fully aware in the present moment without judgment, regardless of the circumstances, requires lots of effort and courage. But there are too many benefits to overlook it.
If you’ve never meditated before and you’re not feeling convinced, I suggest you start by reading this book.
Not only it answers the question why, but also how and what to meditate upon.
In the next couple of weeks, I will talk about my favorite tools and meditation programs, so stay tuned for more.