How Meditation Helps Depression
Most professionals will agree that, at its very essence, depression is rooted in fears about the future and regrets about the past. Developing the ability to focus on the moment – not the past or the future – is the secret behind the power of meditation in combating symptoms of depression. Simply put, meditation offers a way for us to help stop the barrage of over 60,000 thoughts we have every day from getting stuck in a rut of negativity.
What is depression?
Those who have never experienced depression can sometimes dismiss it as simply “feeling sad” for a few days, but on the contrary clinical depression is a genuine illness with real, physical symptoms. There will be points in our lives where most of us will go through periods of feeling down, but those experiencing depression can feel persistently sad for weeks, even months, rather than just a few days.
Symptoms of depression can be either mild or severe. Some people simply describe feeling low, or having a lack of focus and drive, while depression in its severest form can induce suicidal thoughts. If you think you are feeling extremely depressed, visit your doctor, or contact a charity such as Mind for help and advice.
How can Vedic Meditation help with depression?
Many people who have suffered with depression for prolonged periods in their lives report that regular meditation has positively impacted their mental health.
Whilst meditating, the body rests very deeply (deeper than when we sleep) and the mind settles. Unlike many other meditation techniques, during Vedic Meditation the appearance of thoughts is welcome and considered entirely normal. This is regarded simply as nature being allowed to do what it wants to do. We do not try to meditate: it is an effortless, simple, innocent technique which when practiced regularly can produce profound change.
One of the many “bliss chemicals” released during meditation is serotonin, often referred to as “the happy neurotransmitter”, whose job it is to relay signals from one part of the brain to the other. Almost all of the brain’s 86 million brain cells are influenced by it, which means serotonin has a significant impact on our mood, and therefore our overall state of wellbeing.
What’s the link between stress and depression?
Meditation also helps depression by reliving stress. When we experience intense stress, it can result in fewer brain cells being created, and this is when depression often occurs. The natural release of serotonin during meditation stimulates the production of new brain cells, making you feel happier and healthier.
When you’re stressed, the brain also automatically activates the amygdala which is responsible for the evolutionary “flight or fight” response. When this is triggered, a cocktail of unpleasant chemicals, including cortisol, floods the nervous system. Harvard neuroscientists have found that meditation “cools off” the amygdala, shrinking its size, and making it far less electrically active.
Isn’t meditation for depression a new wellbeing fad?
While there appears to be a growing trend towards using meditation to help combat symptoms of depression, meditation has been around for a long time – centuries, in fact – and has been subjected to extensive research over the past forty years.
Research is now showing that many parts of the brain are affected by a regular meditation practice, and that meditation may be associated with structural changes which are important for sensory, cognitive, and emotional processing.
Regarding depression specifically, Harvard research has shown that in the prefrontal cortex (which is our emotional control centre) grey matter thickness is increased by meditation; while research at the University of Washington back in 1996 showed that the hippocampus, responsible amongst other things for memory, is over-developed in the brains of long-term meditators.
At its simplest, meditation give us the opportunity to step into a passive observation and awareness of the mind, which weakens both the frequency and strength of unsettling thoughts.
Over time this leads to a state of advanced mental awareness, which creates a constantly maintained, well-balanced, clear, calm, focused, and creative state of mind. Feelings of lack and incompleteness are dispelled with meditation, which enable you to be at peace with yourself, and feel whole and complete, restoring emotional balance and an enduring sense of wellbeing.
Find out more about how Vedic Meditation can help with feelings of depression at one of our free, no obligation introductory talks in London here.