Meditation For Depression: 7 Mood-Lifting Benefits
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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