The practice of meditation dates back to prehistoric times. Meditation and mindfulness have allowed many people to regain control of their thoughts and emotions. There has been recent evidence that meditation may help decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety, when used as part of a whole-body treatment plan.
In many ways, mental health is like those teeter-totters that we used to play on at the playground as kids. Factors like depression, life stressors, trauma, and anxiety can bring us down. Supportive friends and family, healthy habits, and depression treatment options can help balance this out by taking some of the weight off and balancing out our teeter totter. Meditation can also help bring this balance to our lives by changing our perception of our reality and helping us handle life stressors.
A review study last year at Johns Hopkins looked at the relationship between mindfulness meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. Researcher Madhav Goyal and his team found that the effect size of meditation was moderate, at 0.3. If this sounds low, keep in mind that the effect size for antidepressants is also 0.3, which makes the effect of meditation sound pretty good. Meditation is, after all an active form of brain training. “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” says Goyal. “But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.” Meditation isn’t a magic bullet for depression, as no treatment is, but it’s one of the tools that may help manage symptoms.
Mindfulness meditation is a mental discipline. You start by focusing your attention on your breath, a sensation in the body, or a chosen word or phrase. You note the thoughts, emotions, and background sounds that arise from moment to moment, observing them without analyzing them or making judgments about what’s going on around you. If you drift into thoughts about the past or concerns about the future, you bring your attention back to the present, for example, by refocusing on your breathing. It takes practice.
Are you ready to start meditating?
There are many forms of meditation, so even if you have tried meditation in the past and felt it wasn’t for you, a different form of meditation may benefit you. There are endless ways to meditate, but here are a few popular types:
- Guided visualization is a more modern form of meditation which typically involves a guide that helps you relax. Your mind is guided into a peaceful and pleasant place, resulting in your brain chemistry creating feelings of peace and positivity.
- Mindfulness is another popular meditation technique. It involves letting your mind wander, but continually refocusing on the present. Breathing is the focus of this technique and when the mind wanders, attention is brought back to the breath to re-center and refocus. Practicing this type of meditation can be as easy as sitting quietly for 5 minutes every day and engaging this mindfulness technique. There are also many smartphone apps to assist in mindfulness and guide you through the process.
- Kundalini is another type of meditation that focuses on channeling your inner energies. This form of meditation is also very focused on breath and can combine breath with small repeated movements.
Many people do yoga to incorporate both meditation and exercise into their routine. Most meditation techniques can be done in private at home, or in a public guided session. When it comes to mediation, there is really something for everyone and it can be a vital tool in managing depression.