With a recent increase in awareness and understanding of mental health disorders worldwide, it follows that meditation and similar practices are steadily gaining mainstream popularity. Mindfulness has roots in Eastern religions of Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as serving secular purposes, and has become a natural coping mechanism to reduce stress and anxiety in Western cultures over the past few decades.
Mindful meditation has long been associated with reducing stress and anxiety, but what effect does it have on depression ? The fact is that it can greatly reduce depressive episodes and support overall mental health when coupled with traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
What is Mindful Meditation?
Mindfulness involves being present, fully aware of your body and your surroundings, and finding peace in this state of being. We often feel the urge to resist or react in moments of increased awareness if we are not in a physical or emotional state to handle these realities, so practicing meditation equips you with the tools you need to flex your mindfulness muscle and stay in the present moment without judgment of yourself or others.
Meditation can be as much of a time and spiritual commitment as you desire. This might mean going to an hour-long class and dedicating a certain part of your day to your practice, or it can be as simple as taking a minute at your desk or while driving to your doctor’s appointment in the afternoon. It does not have to include the idea you might have in your mind of closing your eyes and chanting (though please do, if this works for you!), but rather can be a relatively small time commitment that impacts the course of your day, week, and year.
So yes, when you think of meditation, you might get a certain stereotype in your mind of what that means or what type of person usually takes up this practice. We encourage you to strip that away and not let any preconceived notions block your path to true mindfulness. You can meditate in a way that is realistic with your schedule, your body, and your current mental state.
How Meditation Reduces Depression
Depression is a debilitating mental health disorder that can impact individuals physically, emotionally, and spiritually. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), major depressive disorder affects about 6.7 percent of the United States population in a given year and remains the leading cause of disability among Americans aged 15 to 44 .
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is a relatively new therapeutic practice that blends meditation with traditional cognitive therapy. It has been found to be highly effective, allowing some individuals with depression to stop taking prescription medication altogether .
As Professor Mark Williams of University of Oxford explains, “Brooding is a key feature of depression… MBCT tackles brooding and teaches people to be more compassionate to themselves and others.”
But how, exactly, does MBCT work? MBCT exercises involve closing your eyes and focusing on your breathing, as with typical meditation routines. As Dr. Danny Penman elaborates, “Concentrating on the rhythm of the breath helps produce a feeling of detachment. The idea is that you come to realize that thoughts come and go of their own accord, and that your conscious self is distinct from your thoughts. This realization is encouraged by gentle question-and-answer sessions modeled on those in cognitive therapy.”
If mindfulness has the power to treat depression in a way that eliminates the need for prescription medication, especially when combined with the tenets of cognitive therapy, what effect might this have on the mental health community as a whole?
How To Start Mindfulness Today
Mindful meditation might sound intimidating, but it is really a simple practice that you can start today. Take just one minute out of your school or work day to concentrate on your breath and gain newfound awareness of your surroundings.
Look at the paint on the wall in your class, office, or home. What color is it? Does it have texture to it? Is it peeling on one side? Believe it or not, this is a mindfulness exercise! You can practice these small exercises as you work up to gaining full awareness of your body and surroundings.
If unrelated thoughts pop into your head, let them stay and pass naturally. Many people have trouble with mindful meditation because they cannot “turn off” their thoughts, but the reality is that you do not need to! Having random thoughts pop into your head is natural, and learning how to accept that and let them pass is a part of mindful meditation.
There are even some phone applications that can support you on your path to mindfulness. Popular examples include
Headspace, which provides daily guided meditations, Buddhify, which offers different types of meditation based on what your needs are in the moment, and Smiling Mind, which was developed by psychologists and educators to improve your life balance.
Give yourself permission to practice mindful meditation for your overall wellbeing. This is an important step that is often skipped by those with debilitating mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety. Allow yourself the time to practice mindfulness and reap its many benefits for your mind, body, and soul. Consider it a form of self-care that will repay itself tenfold over the months and years to come.
: Hoge, E. A., et al. (2013). Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness Meditation for Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Effects on Anxiety and Stress Reactivity. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 74(8), 786–792.
: Facts & Statistics. (n.d.). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
: Curing Depression with Mindfulness Meditation.” (Penman, D.) Retrieved October 21, 2017, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mindfulness-in-frantic-world/201110/curing-depression-mindfulness-meditation