Treating Depression and Anxiety With Meditation

By

Allie Lemco Toren

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Meditation

The number of Americans receiving a diagnosis of depression or anxiety has risen greatly in recent years: about one in five Americans will suffer from depression at one point in their lives, and anxiety disorders are currently the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 18% of the population. Often, these two conditions co-occur—nearly half of people diagnosed with depression also struggle with an anxiety disorder.

People who are living with these disorders often believe they can overcome them without any help, and may feel like they’ve failed when they’re not able to do so. But both depression and anxiety are medical conditions that require appropriate treatment. The good news is there are lots of effective treatment options out there, and that doesn’t just mean taking medication. Psychotherapy has been proven to greatly benefit those struggling with these disorders; in fact, research shows that the combination of medication and therapy together leads to better outcomes than either treatment style alone. And in that same vein, experts are now finding there’s another tool available to help patients struggling with depression and anxiety: meditation.

The Basics of Meditation

Put simply, meditation is a practice of “quieting the mind” with the overall goal of focusing attention and emotions on reaching inner peace. When you meditate, you turn your thoughts to one focal point, like your breath, bodily sensations, slow repetitive counting, or a calming, repetitive phrase called a “mantra.”

But meditation goes beyond just closing your eyes and saying “omm.” Even though you’re sitting still, there’s a lot happening inside your brain while you meditate. Studies have shown that by regularly practicing meditation, you can help dysfunctional areas of the brain begin to function correctly again—and that’s important for people struggling with depression and anxiety, as these conditions disrupt the brain’s ability to work properly. When you’re depressed or anxious, the mechanisms in your brain that regulate your mood, help with memory, assist in learning, and form your perception of reality don’t function like they should. But many studies over the last four decades have shown that regular meditation can reset the balance and get you healthy again. Biologically, meditation can change the structure of your brain and enhance your ability to regulate your mood, memory, and cognitive abilities. Psychologically, the lessons of meditation can also help you to reframe your reality—to become more accepting of the parts of your life you can’t change and to be comfortable with uncertainty.

Getting Started With Meditation

Experts have found the benefits of meditation on the brain can be seen after just eight weeks of regular practice. And while committing to eight weeks of daily meditation may seem intimidating, many regular meditators say the practice becomes an enjoyable and refreshing daily habit. Many meditate more than once a day. To get started with meditation, find a reputable website, podcast, mobile app, or local wellness center to guide you as you begin. Take it slow—start by meditating for just 10 minutes, and then slowly increase your time when you feel like it. The point of meditation is to relax without judgment, so be compassionate and patient with yourself. While it may seem difficult at first to quell racing thoughts, remember that the more you practice, the easier it will be, and eventually meditation will come naturally.

Just like there are different types of medication and therapy, there are different forms of meditation—and research has shown some specific styles of meditation are ideal for fighting depression and anxiety. Mindfulness meditation has so far proven to be one of the most effective types at helping patients manage and overcome these disorders; this type of meditation emphasizes focusing on and observing the present moment, and it can be a simple and gentle first step into the world of meditation.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 27, 2016

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Medical References

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