Meditation For Depression: 7 Mood-Lifting Benefits

Updated November 3, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

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Meditation can be a powerful practice. It may even change the level of activity in your brain. Although many different people can experience the positive impact of meditation, certain studies show that people dealing with depression may be positively impacted by the benefits of daily meditation practice.

You may have heard that meditation lacks scientific backing or isn't helpful. Although not every coping mechanism works the same for every person, researchers are finding scientific evidence that meditation can improve symptoms of several mental health conditions.

Some treatments for depression, such as antidepressant medications and psychotherapy, may not work for everyone. In that case, meditation may be useful.

Depression Facts

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Before delving into the benefits of meditation for depression, it may be helpful to know that you are not alone. Here are some facts about depression.

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depressive disorder (MDD) affects over 16 million American adults every year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). That's nearly 7% of the US population.

Women And Depression

The Mayo Clinic reports that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression than men. Many people believe this is due to the natural hormonal changes women may experience throughout their lifetime. While fluctuations in hormones can impact mood, hormonal shifts do not often cause depression.

The reported number of women seeking help for depression may be higher due to the stigma surrounding men seeking treatment, a general difficulty for men in reporting depression symptoms, and the varied symptoms of depression men may experience.

The Complexity of Depression

Depression can be complex.It's widely believed that a chemical imbalance is the only variable, but various factors may cause depression.

As Harvard Medical School explains, depression can result from a combination of many factors, including "faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and medical problems." In many cases, depression may result from biological and environmental factors. Stress and anxiety can be significant contributors.

Co-Occurring Conditions

Depression often co-occurs with other physical and mental health conditions, according to the National Library of Medicine (NIH). These may include anxiety disorders, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Symptoms Of Depression

Some of the most reported symptoms of depression include:

  • Sadness
  • Lack of interest in activities you previously pursued and enjoyed
  • Fatigue and low energy
  • Appetite and weight changes
  • Sleep problems, such as sleeping too much or too little
  • Difficulty making decisions and concentrating
  • Feeling worthless and shameful
  • Restlessness
  • Slowed speech and movements
  • Suicidal thoughts

There may be other symptoms that those with depression experience. This is not a complete list. If you believe you may be experiencing depression, consider reaching out for help from a mental health professional such as a counselor or psychiatrist.

Seven Benefits of Meditation For Depression

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There are several benefits to meditation for depression, including the following seven.

1. Meditation May Change Your Reactions To Negative Feelings

Depression may be triggered by stress and anxiety. In an interview with Harvard Health, Dr. John W. Denninger explained that meditation could shift a person's perspective.

"Meditation trains the brain to achieve sustained focus and to return to that focus when negative thinking, emotions, and physical sensations intrude – which happens a lot when you feel stressed and anxious," Dr. Denninger told the publication.

Although this shift in focus may not occur immediately, a regular meditation practice may positively affect a person's reactions to stress and anxiety, leading to a less depressed state.

Many people notice a marked decrease in anxiety when meditating regularly, which can result in less depression as well.

2. Meditation May Silence The Brain's "Fear Center"

You may have heard the brain's amygdala referred to as the "fear center" or "worry center" because it controls the "fight or flight" response. When feeling threatened, the brain may cause us to run, fight, or freeze to protect ourselves. Anxiety and trauma may also activate these pathways in our brains, increasing depression.

In a study conducted by Boston University and Harvard Medical School, researchers ordered brain scans for each participant with depression before and after an 8-week mindfulness meditation class. They report that, in the group that meditated, they "found a trend increase in right amygdala response to negative images, which was significantly correlated with a decrease in depression score."

3. Meditation May Help You Be More Present

Rather than focusing on the future or dwelling on the past, meditation teaches you to concentrate on the present moment and the sensations you feel, which may help keep fears and regrets at bay.

Focusing on the present can extend beyond a meditation session. People who meditate may begin to live in the moment throughout their days. They may find an ability to enjoy minor achievements, heal the past, and trust their ability to cope with stressful events or feelings.

Recent research shows that somatic-based therapies and practices (focused on body sensations) are highly effective for treating trauma. Trauma may be a cause of depression in some individuals. Meditation allows you to simultaneously observe your body, the world around you, and your mind, which may mimic some aspects of somatic therapy.

4. Meditation Encourages A Healthier Mindset

Depression may involve a scarcity mindset—i.e., the belief that something is lacking in your life or that something is missing or broken within you.

Meditating may help you become more aware of thought patterns and gradually shift your thoughts to a more positive, abundant mindset. Studies show that meditation increases self-compassion and improves emotional regulation.

5. Meditation Strengthens The Hippocampus

The hippocampus is a part of the brain that allows us to absorb and transfer information to memory. This brain region also plays a crucial role in emotional regulation, which is vital for responding to emotional experiences.

Studies show that major depression may cause the hippocampus to shrink. However, this size reduction may not be permanent. Meditation has been shown to add volume to this brain region, which may improve mood and memory.

6. Meditation Makes The Prefrontal Cortex Stronger

The brain's prefrontal cortex can significantly impact our day-to-day lives. This part of the brain is mainly responsible for working memory, decision-making, self-expression, complex planning, and how we conduct ourselves in social situations.

Individuals who face depression may have an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. However, this region of the brain can thicken through regular meditation. The prefrontal cortex can be strengthened like a muscle.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar explained that the prefrontal cortex shrinks as we age—but it doesn't have to. Through her research, Lazar found that a 50-year-old who meditated had the same amount of gray matter in his prefrontal cortex as a 25-year-old.

7. Meditation Can Reduce The Risk Of Relapse

Individuals who have experienced recurrent depression are at an increased risk for future depressive episodes. In conditions such as bipolar disorder, depression may leave and come back often. While antidepressant medications can be effective, they don't work for everyone, and may stop working overtime.

As part of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), meditation can decrease the risk of relapse. People with a history of depression may often think negatively about themselves.

Mindfulness and meditation-based therapy may help bring awareness to this pattern, allowing individuals to respond differently to these negative thoughts and emotions by instilling a more compassionate mindset.

How To Start Meditating Regularly

Establishing a daily meditation practice doesn't require fancy clothes or equipment; some techniques can take up just a tiny portion of your day.

Practice Often

Strive for practice, not perfection. Set an intention to meditate daily and practice compassion if you miss a day or two. Like any new habit, it may take some time before your meditation becomes second nature.

Associate Meditation With Daily Practices

Associate your meditation practice with an activity you already do every day. Some people enjoy meditating first thing in the morning. They may get up, use the restroom, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, and meditate before starting their work or school day.

You may meditate right after work or after drinking tea in the evening. Try meditating at different times of the day to determine what works best for you.

Be Flexible

Life may get in the way of meditating sometimes. For example, you may sleep in or get sick and not have the time to meditate. In this case, aim to meditate later in the day or when you're feeling better. Meditation is a tool to help you, and you can control how you practice it.

Quality Over Quantity

Meditating for a short time may be just as effective as meditating for hours. You may not even need to do it daily. Practice quality in your meditation and focus less on the amount you do.

Try Guided Meditation

You may be able to find some free guided meditations online on sites like YouTube or Spotify. Several psychologists also offer free or paid guided meditations to try. If you want to make your own, consider having someone you love record a guided meditation for you on your device.

Try Group Meditation

Look for a meditation group in your area. While meditation is often an individual experience, it may be uplifting to practice in a group setting where others are experiencing the same practice as you.

Try A Meditation App

There are many meditation apps available for your smartphone or tablet. Depending on your needs, you may be able to find an option that suits you.

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Prioritize Meditation

If you want to commit to meditation on a schedule, you may consider writing it down like you would schedule an important meeting or appointment. You may want to write it down in your planner or put a reminder in your phone.

Find A Sacred Meditation Space

Designate a cozy spot in your home to meditate. You may choose to add a comfy chair, pillow, or blanket. You can also include your favorite photos, candles, or books. If you don't have much time at home, you can practice meditation on the go as well.

Just Start 

The first step of meditation is beginning. Whether you have a dedicated space, an app, or a schedule may not be as important to you as the benefits of the practice itself.

Other Forms Of Treatment For Depression

Meditation may not be effective for everyone. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression and want to reach out for professional help, help is available. Depression can be chronic and persistent, and many find that the only treatment that helps is therapy or medication.

If you are interested in trying out mindfulness and meditation-based therapy with an expert, studies show that mindfulness-based treatment online is highly effective in treating depression and anxiety. Through online therapy platforms like BetterHelp, you may be able to gain insight into your symptoms and further your understanding of meditation.

Below are some counselor reviews from those who have struggled with similar concerns.

Counselor Reviews

"Ms. Gates is the therapist you want to have by your side. You feel safe with her since the first moment. If you have a hard time opening up, you won't face that issue with her. She is a great listener. I love it how she can place her words so wisely delivering a long message full of deep straight to the point meanings in just few words! Hats off! Really! You won't regret choosing her as your therapist!"

"Patricia has helped me manage my anxiety and depression so much! It's amazing to think how far I have come and how better equipt I am with my toolbox of techniques that help alleviate my anxiety."

Takeaway

Symptoms of depression may feel overwhelming. Meditation is just one tool out of many that you can try to relieve certain parts of depression. A daily meditation practice may assist you in improving memory, feeling happier, and creating a schedule. If you're still not sure or want to get an expert perspective, consider reaching out to a mental health professional.

You Don’t Have To Face Depression Alone. Our Experienced Counselors Can Help.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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