Meditation for Depression is still a relatively new concept for me. However, the experience I’ve had over the last couple years changed my perspective on it completely.
The only experience I had with meditation was in movies or on television, so it goes without saying that I thought meditation was only for martial artists and hippies. When I thought of meditating, I had this vision of a monk out in the forest somewhere or some granola girl with hemp pants wasting her morning away. To be fair, I admittedly now have more in common with granola girl than I ever thought possible, and hemp really is a sustainable textile product that should find widespread use in the fashion industry, but I digress.
Okay, back to meditation. So, with that short sighted view of the practice, I put off meditation for years. It wasn’t until I heard Tim Ferriss talk about meditation in passing one day. I’m not sure what the topic was, but it came up that he meditated and that many leaders in the Fortune 500 world did as well. Still, I put off meditating for a while longer.
It wasn’t until my depression and anxiety flared up again a couple of years ago that I started to explore meditation. At this point, I was now crippled by my depression, and I could barely function with the anxiety. I had all but closed my company down because of my illness, and I needed something to bring peace and order back to the day. That’s when I found meditation could have a positive impact on my depression.
Meditation can me as good as anti-depressants when it comes to maintaining your condition. An Oxford study revealed that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy stopped just as many people from sliding back down the hill of depression as your most promoted medication.
The study shows that meditation is quite capable. In fact, 47 percent of people taking medication slipped back into a major depression where 44 percent of people practicing mindfulness meditation backslid. So, it’s a pretty even split but it illustrates the power of meditation.
A second study showed a similar finding which solidifies the fact that meditation should be at least part of the conversation when it comes to maintaining and enhancing your mental health.
Now, before we go any further, please do not stop taking your meds and start meditating instead. I’m not suggesting that you can replace your medication outright. Sure the studies show that it’s powerful, and we’re going to dive into meditation’s wonders here in a second, but we’re talking about your life here.
I see meditation as an excellent addition to any well-monitored recovery approach. If you’re taking meds, and those meds work, don’t stop. But, consider adding a little meditation to your day and see if it has a positive impact on your mood. That’s how I use meditation for depression. This undervalued art form is just one of the many tools in my toolbox (on my lists) that I go to when things get bad.
I’m not the only one. Active-duty service members with PTSD or anxiety get relief from their condition by using Transcendental Meditation. A military study found that 83.7 percent of the meditating group stabilized, reduced, or stopped their use of meds to treat their illness.
First, this study shows that tough guys have mental health issues and need help sometimes. So cut out the macho crap, if that’s you, and get some help. Second, 83.7 percent is huge. That’s great news for that group of soldiers when you consider that 40.5 percent of the group that chose not to meditate ended up taking more drugs.
So maybe there is something to the idea that meditation can impact your mental health.
Why I meditate
The studies I’ve cited are reason enough to explore the idea of meditation for depression. But there are a few other reasons I try to meditate.
I find peace during the day
My mind is a war zone. Picture a scene from Mad Max and that’s kind of how the whole thing looks. Negative energy collides with past mistakes and then that gets dipped in shame and guilt before getting lit on fire and tossed through the window of my soul, and that’s just on a Tuesday.
Sitting down for a few minutes to meditate allows me to extinguish some of those flames and calm the battle for a bit.
I discover things about my mental health
Meditation often becomes time for my mind to wander or explore itself. Sometimes I will have a realization regarding my condition that I can use to fight depression later. Some of my biggest breakthroughs about my illness have come after meditating on it for awhile.
I discover things about God
Meditation is sometimes my quietest time all day. When I’m at peace, and alone with my thoughts, that’s when I remember scripture or I start to think about God. Often the answer to my challenges will come to me, or I’ll feel lead to start something new. My non-believing friends won’t agree but in these quiet times, when I finally shut up, I find that God is the one who’s still talking. That access is a blessing in my life that I hope you can come to enjoy that someday too.
I slow down
I mentioned the war zone in my head. Outside my brain, it’s just like your life. Text messages, emails, procrastination, ups, and downs fill my day. Sometimes it feels like it spins out of control. Meditation is a way to slow down and relax a bit.
Meditation challenges me
Meditation isn’t easy for me. I’ve already mentioned the busy schedule and the Mad Max brain. Meditation becomes a sort of challenge, like a workout that I have to get through. But when I complete it, I feel so much better having invested that time in my health.
My anxiety lessens
I rely less on meds to control my anxiety when I meditate, and I can better manage the tension that comes from my condition. The peace that I find is like a fresh breeze on a hot day. It may not make all the heat go away, but I feel like I can breathe for a minute. Isn’t that worth it?
I fend off anxiety attacks
My anxiety attacks suck. They’re meteors of human crap on a path of destruction headed right for my day. No todo list, no calendar event, no motivational trick I come up with will outlast it. But, I’ve found that I can use some of the principles of meditation when having an attack, and that can calm the fire that’s raging inside me.
For example, traffic is a big source of anxiety for me. When I can’t move on the freeway, I feel trapped, and I start to lose it. The anxiety attack takes me. In recent years, I’ve begun to meditate in the car when I feel the symptoms arise. I’ll control my breathing and free my thoughts (while keeping my eyes and concentration safely on the road). I give myself a pep talk and I pray.
I go through my meditative routine right there on the freeway, and that helps keep the anxiety from getting out of control. Does it make it go away? Not every time, but I’m often calmer and can focus on getting to where I need to go safely. That’s meditation put to use outside of a yoga studio.
Meditation for Depression doesn’t need to be complicated
The simpler you can make things the better. You don’t need crazy mantras, and you don’t need to devote a long time to your new practice. I try to meditate for five minutes per session, but Zen Habits gives a fantastic suggestion of starting at just 2 minutes each. A ridiculously short time limit lowers the barrier and can make meditation seem more accessible to you. Whether you do 2 minutes or 5, it doesn’t matter. Just get started and keep it simple.
Meditation doesn’t have to be perfect
Ideally, I would meditate daily for ten or more minutes. In reality, I’m lucky if I get 1-3 days a week sometimes. In fact, writing this has made me feel a little conflicted, and I need to get back into it.
That’s okay; it doesn’t need to be perfect to be effective. Just start meditating when you can. If you can do it with some slight degree of consistency from time to time, then you will feel the impact.
Meditation for depression and anxiety is a powerful tool in my toolbox. I go back to it when things get dark. Whether I’m stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, or I’m just trying to survive another Monday, the principals of meditation help calm the fires inside my brain and bring me peace at the moment I need it most.
If I can manage to meditate consistently, over time, I feel an overall peace inside, so the benefits go beyond the current moment of meditation. A couple of minutes of meditation here or there are small deposits made to the bank account of your mental health. Those deposits will add up to something soon enough.
Getting started meditating
In the coming weeks, I’m going to unpack a few tools I regularly use in my meditation. But, to get started today, I suggest the Zen Habits Meditation Guide. The guide is short, simple, and free so you have no reason not to click over and try it out.
Take a moment today and try and center yourself. Whether it’s in the quiet corner of your bedroom or some park out in the sun, take 2-5 minutes and rest your mind.
Your body and the rest of your day will owe you one.