HopeXchange is pleased to welcome guest blogger, Lucy Duncan. Lucy is a freelance writer and editor who loves self-improvement, meditation, and mindful living.
How meditation can help with depression
Depression is now considered to be one of the leading causes of disability and ill health worldwide. Psychotherapy or antidepressants are usually the first line treatments for depression, however a growing body of research suggest that meditating regularly could help with depression as it can change the way that the brain responds to stress and anxiety.
The link between stress, anxiety and depression
Stress and anxiety are two major triggers for depression. Meditation can help us get on top of that stress and anxiety before it escalates into depression, as well as being considered as a valid treatment for people who already are depressed.
With regular meditation practice the mind will become much calmer and more still, and you will find that you are more skilled at being engaged with the present moment, rather than carried away with thoughts, worries and concerns.
Meditation brings us back to the present moment
So often when we feel anxious or depressed, we find that our minds are busy with worried thoughts that are often about things that happened in the past or anticipated events in the future, this can trigger negative emotions and unhealthy thought patterns. It takes us out of the present moment, whereas meditation helps us learn to become more engaged with the here and now and find peace and calm within the present moment.
Meditation helps to focus the mind
According to Dr. John W Denninger, director of research at Massachusetts General Hospital “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.” Research shows in fact that regular meditation can actually reverse brain patterns associated with poor attention and mind wandering. This is brought about by the sustained focused of the mind during meditation practice.
Meditation changes brain regions linked with depression
Scientists have demonstrated that the medial prefrontal cortex is hyperactive in depressed individuals. This is the brain centre that is responsible for processing information about yourself, which as mentioned, in depressed individuals this tends to revolve around worrying about the future and replaying events in the past. When people feel stressed and anxious abut themselves and their lives, the medial prefrontal cortex goes into overdrive.
Meditation breaks the connection between these brain regions
Another region that is over triggered in people with depression is the amygdala, otherwise known as the ‘fear centre’ of the brain. These two brain regions – The medial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala – actually work together to cause depression. When the mPFC goes into overdrive due to stress and anxiety, the amygdala responds by releasing a stress hormone to respond to a threat that only exists in our minds.
Stick with it to reap the benefits
Yet meditation can help to break the connection between the two. According to Dr. Denniger “When you meditate, you are better able to ignore the negative sensations of stress and anxiety, which explains, in part, why stress levels fall when you meditate.” It takes time to feel the results of meditation, but with regular practice of just 20-30 minutes a day, after one or two months you would start to notice the positive impact that it is having on your mental health.
Would you like to get into meditation? There’s a forest of information out there and it’s hard to know where to start. Indeed, there are many ways to begin too. First, take a look at this article on getting into meditation and check out this Guardian article on ways to get into meditation.