Meditation Practices For Depression: Seven Benefits

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated April 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Meditation can be a powerful practice. It may even positively change the level of activity in your brain and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Although many different people can experience the positive impact of meditation, certain studies show that people with depression, in particular, may benefit from daily 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 meditating can improve symptoms for several mental health conditions, including depression.

Some treatments for depression, such as antidepressant medications and psychotherapy, may not work for everyone. The regular practice of meditation has been shown to help lower stress levels, which are often elevated in people with depression. This calming effect may be due to its effects on the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands.

Depression facts

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Before delving into the benefits of meditation practices for depression, it may be helpful to know that you are not alone in your mental health challenges. 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. There are different risk factors for being diagnosed with depression, such as abuse, drastic life changes, conflicts, and alcohol use. Genetics may also play a role, as having family members with a history of depression may increase the risk in an individual. 

If you or a loved one is experiencing abuse, contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Support is available 24/7.

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 a complex health condition. 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 control 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.

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

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. Support is available 24/7.

There may be other symptoms that those with depression experience. This is not a complete list of depression symptoms. 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 practices 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 meditating could shift a person's perspective, helping them manage their thoughts and feelings more effectively.

"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, regular 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". This part of the brain is involved with activating the "fight or flight" response, which is a stress response that prepares the body to react to perceived threats. Although feeling threatened causes a stress response, anxiety and trauma may also activate this pathway in our brains, increasing the risk of depression over time.

In a study conducted by Boston University and Harvard Medical School, researchers ordered brain scans for each participant with depression before and after eight weeks of mindfulness meditation classes. 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". Meditation for depression helps you ignore the stress and anxiety often associated with the condition.

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. By cultivating awareness and acceptance of the present moment, meditation helps promote a sense of calm in the face of stressful situations.

Focusing on the present can extend beyond a meditation session. People who practice mindfulness 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.

You may also participate in body scan meditation. In this practice, you get comfortable, then slowly scan your body from top to bottom, noting how each part of your body feels. In doing so, you focus your thoughts and feelings entirely on how your body feels in the present moment.

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 for depression.

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 control.

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 control, which is vital for responding to emotional experiences. 

Studies show that major depression may cause the hippocampus to shrink. As a result, individuals with depression may have a smaller hippocampus, which can contribute to the severity of their symptoms. However, this size reduction may not be permanent. Other research has shown that meditation can help add volume to this brain region, which may improve mood and memory, as well as depression symptoms.

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

Practice often for yourself

Strive for practice, not perfection. Set an intention to meditate daily and practice compassion for yourself 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 might get up, use the restroom, eat breakfast, brush their teeth, and meditate before starting their work for the day.

You can also 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 and your depression symptoms.

Prioritize meditation

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

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.

Find a sacred meditation space for your practice

Designate a cozy spot in your home to meditate. You may choose to add a chair, pillow, or blanket for increased comfort. 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 practice for depression 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. As stress levels fall, you may notice the benefits of meditation more, which may make the practice easier over time. 

Meditation for depression-guided practices

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 for you to try. If you want to make your own, consider having someone you love to record a guided meditation for you on your device.

Group meditation for added support

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. Many yoga studios, community centers, and meditation centers offer group meditation sessions, which can provide a supportive and communal environment for those looking to deepen their meditation practice.

Meditation apps for convenience 

There are many meditation apps available for your smartphone or tablet. Depending on your needs, you may be able to find an option that's right for you. Some popular meditation apps include Headspace, Calm, and Insight Timer, which offer guided meditations, breathing exercises, and other mindfulness practices. These apps can be a convenient way to incorporate meditation into your daily routine and track your progress over time.

Meditation retreats

For those seeking a more immersive meditation experience, meditation retreats may be worth considering. These retreats can range from a weekend to several weeks and are designed to provide a deeper dive into meditation and mindfulness practices. Some retreats may be silent, while others may include guided meditations and workshops.

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Other forms of treatment for depression

Meditation may not be an effective option to treat depression in 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 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 depression symptoms and further your understanding of meditation.

Some mental health providers offer mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. In this therapy model, people with depression learn how to combine mindfulness-based stress reduction with the strategies of cognitive behavioral therapy, such as learning new ways to relate to negative thoughts. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy has been shown to be a promising treatment option for depression.

Below are some counselor reviews from those who have struggled with depression and other mental health concerns.

Counselor reviews

"Ms. Gates is the therapist you want to have by your side. You feel safe with her from 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 how she can place her words wisely, delivering a long message full of deep, straight-to-the-point meanings in just a 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 equipped I am with my toolbox of techniques that help alleviate my anxiety".


Symptoms of depression may feel overwhelming. Meditation effectively improves mental and emotional well-being for people of all ages, including children and older adults. A daily meditation practice may be helpful in improving memory, relieving stress, and feeling happier. However, meditation is just one of many potential treatments for depression and may not be effective for everyone. If you're unsure or want to get an expert perspective, consider contacting a mental health professional.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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