Meditation's Effect on Depression
The latest research reveals that when mindfulness meditation is used in conjunction with psychotherapy and medication, it can be an effective technique to manage depression.
As the name implies, mindfulness meditation involves becoming aware of the moment without judging the experience—just accepting it for what it is, explains Linda Wasmer Andrews, MS, author of several books about depression and meditation. "This type of meditation is a key feature of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, a psychotherapy approach that's designed to help people who have suffered from depression in the past to avoid a recurrence in the future," she adds.
3 Ways Mindfulness Meditation Helps
There are a few reasons mindfulness meditation can help ease depression symptoms.
1. Breaks the rumination cycle. People with depression are prone to brooding over bad things that happened yesterday or worrying about new calamities that might befall them tomorrow, which can lead to a cycle of negative thinking, Andrews explains. "Mindfulness helps people break free of this cycle. It shows them how to notice their thoughts but then let them go, without getting stuck in rumination."
2. Reduces stress. Any form of meditation can help to manage stress. This is important because stress can be a big trigger of depression, and it can exacerbate symptoms in people who are vulnerable.
3. Improves concentration. Meditation can help sharpen your mental focus, helping to lessen some of the concentration problems that are common with depression.
More Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation
"There's emerging evidence that meditating regularly might have a host of other mental health benefits as well," Andrews says. Among other things, meditation may help:
- Improve working memory
- Temper emotional reactions
- Promote flexible thinking
- Foster relationship satisfaction
How to Start Meditating
If you want to try meditating, Andrews suggests looking for books, CDs, or DVDs on the topic from your library, local bookstore, or online resource. If you're seeing a therapist, you should also let her know your interest in this area and find out if you might be able to incorporate meditation practice into your treatment plan.
"Your therapist or doctor might be able to refer you to a meditation teacher who is familiar with depression and has experience working in collaboration with mental health professionals," she adds.
To get the most out of mindfulness meditation, designate a quiet spot with as few distractions as possible and plan to practice meditating every day, even if just for a few minutes. "Get comfy, and take a few deep breaths to relax and get started," she says.
Just keep in mind that meditation takes some practice so you may have to stick with it for a while before it starts to stick.
"Noticing your thoughts without reacting to them isn't as easy as it sounds," she says. But with patience, you can find that the process becomes more natural and relaxing. "Do your best, and trust that it's good enough. Over time, mindfulness will come more naturally."
Linda Wasmer Andrews, M.S. Email interview, Oct. 8, 2013.
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