What it's like to meditate with depression
The World Health Organization recently listed depression as the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. It's a global problem, and one for which many possible solutions have been explored; meditation and mindfulness are examples of solutions that have grown rapidly in popularity in recent years.
The Potential of Meditation for Anxiety and Depression
The effect of meditation on anxiety and depression, two illnesses which are often closely interlinked, is promising. One 2017 study focused on two groups of adults suffering from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), one of which explored treatment using mindfulness-based stress reduction. This group reported lower levels of stress in their bodies compared to a similar group who didn't receive the same meditation training. Despite the clear science and benefits, many are hesitant to take up meditation as a form of recovery.
The Resistance to Meditation
I know, because I was one of these people. My journey with depression involved a long struggle, and my recovery was hindered by many internal battles. I doubted my own strength and questioned societal expectations of what it means to be resilient. The idea of meditation initially clashed with my desire to actively fight against what was happening inside my mind. I associated meditation with long, silent retreats in distant mountains. Being practically-minded, I resisted the idea and clung to my belief in a confrontational approach to conquering depression.
Embracing Acceptance and Reflecting through Meditation
Months passed, and I wasn't finding relief; instead, desperation made me feel worse, and it became clear that my strategy of "fighting" wasn't effective. It was then that I turned back to the ideas of mindfulness, relaxation, and acceptance. I picked up Claire Weekes's book "Self Help for Your Nerves" once again, which became my bible for recovery, and committed myself to a routine of daily meditation.
The Challenging Path to Meditation
I won't lie, meditating in the throes of depression was incredibly tough. Trying to relax and accept thoughts of suicide and despair felt like an impossible task, and I awkwardly fidgeted my way through meditation sessions. However, as I began to distance myself from depression and see it as an external problem that didn't define me, meditation became much easier to practice. These moments of reflection became an opportunity for me to evaluate my mental health, to acknowledge the highs and lows I experienced each day or week. And gradually, I started to notice the positive impact of meditation.
Research shows that regular meditation can lead to physical changes in the brain. It breaks down neural connections associated with fear and anxiety while building connections related to empathy and rational problem-solving. In fact, a study conducted by Harvard Medical School found that significant changes can occur after just eight weeks of consistent meditation practice. These changes can enhance memory, increase happiness levels, and serve as a valuable tool in managing depression.
Making Meditation a Daily Ritual
Realizing the transformative potential of meditation, I knew it needed to be a regular fixture in my life. It remains part of my daily routine, allowing me to navigate depression with a greater sense of ease. If you're suffering and unsure where to turn, here are two crucial pieces of advice:
Firstly, understand that meditation is not a necessity but can be a valuable aid. It's important to learn acceptance and embrace the understanding that all things change. While dark clouds may presently overshadow, the blue skies are never too far behind.
Secondly, don't overwhelm yourself with thoughts about finding the perfect routine. There are various avenues and combinations of meditation practices available. It can be helpful to integrate meditation with other routines such as daily exercise and therapy. For me, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) supplemented the mindfulness-based approach of meditation effectively. Find what works best for you, be consistent, and remember that time, along with acceptance, can greatly improve mental health.
In conclusion, meditation can be a powerful tool in managing depression and cultivating inner peace. Despite initial resistance, embracing mindfulness and acceptance allowed me to experience the transformative benefits of regular meditation practice. By distancing myself from depression and understanding that change is possible, I began to navigate my mental health with greater ease. It's important to remember that meditation is not a necessity, but for many, it can provide significant relief and growth. Find a routine that works for you, be consistent, and explore the wealth of meditation resources available. Foster mental well-being and move towards a healthier, more resilient mindset through the practice of self-compassion and mindfulness.
1. How can meditation help with depression?
Answer: Meditation has been shown to reduce stress levels, reshape the brain's neural connections, stimulate the vagus nerve, and increase self-awareness and empathy. These changes contribute to a decrease in depressive symptoms and an improvement in overall mental well-being.
2. What are some effective types of meditation for managing depression?
Answer: Some types of meditation that have shown efficacy in managing depression include mindfulness meditation, body scan meditation, loving-kindness meditation, and breathing exercises. These practices help individuals develop present moment awareness, self-compassion, and resilience.
3. Is meditation a substitute for professional help in treating depression?
Answer: No, meditation should not be seen as a substitute for professional help. It is advisable to seek guidance from a mental health professional who can provide a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to individual needs. Meditation can be used as a complementary practice alongside therapy and medication, promoting overall well-being.
4. How long does it take to experience the benefits of meditation for depression?
Answer: The benefits of meditation can be experienced in as little as eight weeks of regular practice. However, the time frame may vary for each individual. Consistency and patience are key in allowing the transformative effects of meditation to unfold.
5. Can meditation help in preventing future episodes of depression?
Answer: Yes, regular meditation practice can contribute to a decrease in the likelihood of future depressive episodes. The neural changes and increased self-awareness fostered by meditation support resilience and equip individuals with effective coping mechanisms.
Remember, if you or someone you know is struggling with depression, it is essential to seek professional help and support. Meditation can be a valuable tool in a comprehensive treatment plan, but it should not replace medical advice or therapy.