Abraham Lincoln, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens, Winston Churchill, Vincent Van Gogh, J. K. Rowling, Adele and countless other artists, bereaved individuals, recent mothers, and John and Jane Does struggled or struggle with depression. In today’s intensely demanding world, stress is a major contributing factor to this increasingly common malady.
The symptoms of depression vary from one person to another. However, if you’ve been feeling “blue” for several weeks, can’t quite find the energy needed to face the world and find that your emotions are interrupting your normal lifestyle, you may be suffering from clinical depression. If this sounds familiar, we strongly urge you to seek professional help. And you might also try meditation.
Meditation for depression
First off, how does mindfulness meditation affect our overall mental health? Meditation helps us become more aware of what’s happening within. It also allows us to relate more directly – with benevolence – to the emotions that are brought to light, including anger, stress, anxiety and craving. There are a zillion distractions and pressures in the modern world that might persuade us to lose touch with our emotions and feelings. If we don’t pay attention, we may well end up suppressing them, and this is never healthy. Meditation connects us to a sense of spaciousness, which in turn fosters well-being.
How can meditation help?
Rachel Parrish, an established and very skillful meditation teacher, talks about how sitting can help us change our habitual patterns. She emphasizes that practicing daily meditation gives us a new lease on life by helping us recognize and drop the habits we’re struggling with.
The awareness – mental, spiritual and emotional – that meditators achieve helps them identify the early signs of anxiety, stress and depression. This makes it easier to deal with and treat these issues before they snowball. Those who train in mindfulness practice, for example, learn to recognize and distance themselves from unwholesome thoughts and emotions without judging or censoring them. This benevolent distance from harmful emotions allows meditators to discover inner resources they may not have been aware of – resources that inform their lives and make it easier to focus on the well-being of others.
An article recently published on Health.com describes 11 types of meditation that may help people cope with and even overcome depression. Mindfulness, breath awareness and walking meditation are three of the techniques mentioned that are easy to put into practice. The article also reminds the reader that when it comes to depression, meditation is most effective when combined with other treatments and “should be used as a part of conventional medical care under the supervision of a physician.”
Effectiveness of meditation in managing depression
Still wondering does meditation (really truly) help depression? A review study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2014 found that mindfulness meditation was about as effective as medication in treating depression. This study, which was notable for its scope and rigorous methodology, raised yet another voice in favor of a multi-remedy approach to helping alleviate the disorder. As Johns Hopkins’s Dr. Madhav Goyal, who led the research team, put it, “Also relevant for physicians and patients is that there is no known major harm from meditating, and meditation doesn’t come with any known side effects. One can also practice meditation along with other treatments one is already receiving.”
Research also suggests that methods such as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) help prevent relapse. An article from the American Psychological Association says that “one characteristic of depression is a habit of thinking negatively about experience, one’s self or the future. Mindfulness trains people to be more aware of these thoughts and to stand back and simply observe their thoughts passing through their minds instead of trying to control their emotions.”
Research carried out the University of Exeter in England confirmed that MBCT was as effective as medication for preventing relapse. This provides a ray of hope for those who have suffered from depression and would rather not rely on anti-depressants to keep it from returning.
Symptoms of depression
Here are the signs to look out for if you suspect that you are (or someone you love is) depressed:
- Restlessness and feeling slower than usual
- Constant irritability, sadness or tension
- Reduced ability to concentrate or make decisions
- Reduced interest in common hobbies and activities
- Feeling hopeless, worthless and/or guilty
- Feeling tired all the time; loss of energy with no valid reason
- General change in sleeping pattern
- Significant change in appetite which can be accompanied by weight gain or weight loss
- Thoughts of death or suicide
In tandem with proper counseling and other remedies, meditation can help sufferers overcome this agonizing condition. But the benefits aren’t only for people who struggle with the blues. In fact, meditation gives just about everyone who is willing to sit for a few minutes a day access to a happier and more balanced life. According to Maggie Lehnert Kossowski, meditation is a journey to a life of hope and meaning.