Meditation For Depression: 7 Mood-Lifting Benefits

By Kelly Spears|Updated August 9, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC

Content Warning: This article discusses potentially triggering topics such as suicide. If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, reach out to 911 or call a suicide hotline. In the U.S., you can dial 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Or, use the webchat atsuicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.

Meditation is a powerful practice. In fact, it can actually change the level of activity in your brain! While virtually anyone can experience the positive effects of meditation, certain studies show that people dealing with depression are especially likely to reap the benefits of daily meditation practice.

Unfortunately, the mere mention of meditation as a self-care practice is frequently met with skepticism. It is largely misunderstood and often viewed as an unscientific practice with no proven benefits.

Nothing could be further from the truth, however. Countless researchers are finding scientific evidence that meditation can be life-changing for many people, including those facing depression.

Unfortunately, many common treatments for depression, such as antidepressant medications and psychotherapy, don’t work for everyone. Many people don’t try meditation until they are severely depressed and desperate.

Below, you’ll learn just how many people are dealing with depression as well as how meditation affects the brain. You’ll also be introduced to helpful resources for meditation newcomers, many of which are free!

Depression Facts

Could Meditation Help You Manage Anxiety?

Before we delve into the benefits of meditation for depression, it’s helpful to know that you are not alone, as evidenced by the following findings and statistics:

  • 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 percent of the U.S. population.
  • Women Are Diagnosed With Depression Much More Frequently Than Men.In fact, the Mayo Clinic reports that women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression. Many people believe this is due to the natural hormonal changes that women experience throughout their lifetime. While fluctuations in hormones can certainly affect mood, these changes aren’t the primary cause of depression. This number may also be skewed due to the stigma that surrounds menseeking treatment, general difficulty for men in reporting depression symptoms, and the varied symptoms of depression men may experience.
  • Depression Is Incredibly Complex. It’s widely believed that a chemical imbalance is at the root of depression, but this explanation simplifies the complexity of the disease. 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 results from a mishmash of biological and environmental factors. Stress and anxiety are also known to be major contributors.
  • Depression Often Co-occurs With Other Physical And Mental Health Conditions, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIH). These include anxiety disorders, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Not sure if you’re dealing with depression? We’ve outlined the symptoms below:

Symptoms Of Depression

  • 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

If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, reach out to 911 or call a suicide hotline. In the U.S., you can dial 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Or, use the webchat atsuicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.

Keep in mind that you may be experiencing depression, even if you aren’t experiencing all or even most of the symptoms mentioned above. To read more about depression, including the different types, check out this link. You can also utilize the online counselingservices provided by BetterHelp.

The Link Between Meditation And Depression

Now that we’ve covered common causes, facts, and symptoms of depression, let’s look at the seven mood-lifting benefits of beginning a meditation practice:

  1. Meditation Can Change Your Reactions To Negative Feelings

As mentioned previously, depression is often 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 isn’t likely to take place immediately, a regular meditation practice can positively affect a person’s reactions to stress and anxiety, which may lead to a less depressed state.

As a bonus, many people notice a marked decrease in anxiety when meditating regularly, which can result in a domino effect.

  1. Meditation Can 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, and is constantly on the lookout for something to worry about or fear.

During a study conducted by Boston University and Harvard Medical School, researchers ordered brain scans for each participant 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.”

  1. Meditation Teaches Us To Live In The Moment

If you face depression, you may consider yourself a “worry wart” or an “over-thinker.” Rather than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past, meditation teaches us to focus on the here and now, which can help keep fears and regrets at bay.

Luckily, focusing on the present extends way beyond a meditation session. People who meditate tend to live in the moment throughout the day. They’re often able to better enjoy the little things in life, leave the past behind them, and trust that they’ll be okay no matter what the future holds.

  1. Meditation Encourages A Healthier Mindset

Depression often goes hand in hand with a scarcity mindset—i.e. the belief that something is lacking in our lives, or something is missing or broken within us.

Meditating makes us more aware of our thought patterns and allows us to gradually shift our thoughts to a more positive, abundant mindset. The Chopra Center suggests setting an intention to clear the mind by meditating or setting aside quiet time every day to “allow new abundant possibilities to come to light.”

  1. Meditation Strengthens The Hippocampus

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

Studies show that major depression can even cause the hippocampus to shrink. Luckily, this reduction in size doesn’t have to be permanent. Meditation can add volume to this region of the brain, restoring all the key functions the hippocampus is responsible for.

  1. Meditation Makes The Prefrontal Cortex Stronger

The brain’s prefrontal cortex greatly impacts our day-to-day lives. This part of the brain is largely responsible for working memory, decision-making, self-expression, complex planning, and how we conduct ourselves in social situations.Individuals who face depression tend to have an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. However, this region of the brain can thicken through regular meditation.

Perhaps the most encouraging finding of all is the fact that 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 meditates has the equivalent gray matter in the prefrontal cortex as a 25-year-old. Now, that’s good news!

  1. Meditation Can Reduce The Risk Of Relapse

Unfortunately, history tends to repeat itself when it comes to depression. Individuals who have experienced recurrent depression are at an increased risk for future depressive episodes. While antidepressant medications can be effective, they don’t work for everyone, and they can stop working overtime.

Meditation, as part of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), can decrease the risk of relapse. This type of therapy is just as effective as antidepressants—without the frustrating side effects.

People with a history of depression tend to think negatively about themselves. MBCT brings awareness to this pattern, allowing individuals to respond differently to these negative thoughts and emotions by instilling a more compassionate mindset.

How To Start A Meditation Practice

Establishing a daily meditation practice doesn’t require fancy clothes or equipment, and it doesn’t need to take much time either. Read the following tips, take a deep breath, and simply begin:

  • Strive For Practice, Not Perfection. Set an intention to meditate each day, and practice compassion if you miss a day or two. Like any new habit, it will take some time before your meditation becomes second nature.
  • Associate  Your Meditation Practice With An Activity You Already Do Every Day. Many people prefer to meditate 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 choose to meditate right after work or after drinking a cup of tea in the evening. Try meditating at different times of the day to determine what works best for you.
  • Be Flexible. Life happens. You may have to skip your morning meditation after hitting the snooze button one too many times. In this case, aim to meditate later in the day.
  • Remember Quality Over Quantity. Don’t attempt to meditate for an hour when you begin your practice unless you’re enjoying the experience. As you become more comfortable with your practice, you can increase the time you spend meditating.
  • Try Guided Meditations. There is a plethora of great guided meditations online. Dr. Kristin Neff offers seven free guided meditations on her website, all of which focus on self-compassion. This 5-minute meditation is a great place to start.
  • Try Group Meditation. Look for a meditation group in your area. While meditation is intended to be an individual experience, it can be uplifting to practice in a group setting.
  • Try A Meditation App. There are so many great meditation apps available for your smartphone or tablet. A few notable options are Insight Timer, Calm, Headspace, and Waking Up.
Could Meditation Help You Manage Anxiety?
  • Prioritize Your Practice. Schedule your meditation just like you would schedule an important meeting or appointment. Jot it down in your planner or put a reminder in your phone.
  • Create a sacred 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.
  • Just Start. The most important step of meditation is beginning. Whether you have a dedicated space or an app truly doesn’t matter so long as you make the effort to start.

Some questions you can ask your therapist include:

Does meditation actually help depression?
What type of meditation is best for depression?
How long does it take for meditation to help depression?
How do you meditate in bed?
Can you meditate while on antidepressants?
Is crying after meditation normal?
How can I control my mind from unwanted thoughts?
Why does meditation help anxiety?
What are the benefits of meditation?
What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

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