That’s a lot of money.
What’s more, with neither the total annual cost nor the overall number of diagnoses slowing down, it’s no exaggeration to state that depression has become an epidemic.
In fact, depression affects millions of people—directly or indirectly—and for every person who took an antidepressant in 1987, there are now more than five.
However, while a discussion of the effectiveness of antidepressants is beyond the scope of this article, we can offer alternative mindfulness tools for dealing with these psychological disorders—like meditation for anxiety and depression, for instance.
There’s a growing body of evidence that cites meditation as an effective management tool for anxiety and depression, as we will detail below.
Eastern vs. Western Approaches to Mental Wellness
East and West have taken divergent approaches to medicine over the centuries. For instance, while the Western tradition focuses on identifying the presence or absence of disease and then treating disease with pharmaceuticals either to reverse or mask a condition, Eastern medicine has a reputation for taking a more holistic approach to wellness. This includes monitoring the interplay of various elements, such as a person’s physiology and pathology, as well as aspects of their natural environment. Meditation and other mindfulness modalities remain centerpieces in the Eastern wellness practitioner’s toolbox, especially for treating anxiety and depression. And the Western medical community is taking notice and following suit.
Meditation and Wellness
Meditation for depression? Is that an actual thing?
Yes, it is.
So much so that 6.3 million Americans (or roughly 1 in 30) are being referred by doctors to practice activities like meditation, according to an article from Psychology Today. The medical community is also referring to activities like meditation more and more as mind-body therapy.
Before we explain its connection to treating anxiety and depression, you should know that meditation can increase your level of wellness, no matter what your particular health situation may be.
Daily meditation aids health by:
- Training you to see the connection between your mind and body, which is a critical consideration when it comes to understanding how your overall health works.
- Giving you a much-needed excuse to rest and recharge.
- Lowering your blood pressure while also boosting your immune system.
- Bringing your subconscious issues and worries to the surface and then allowing you to come up with novel new solutions for dealing with them.
- Allowing you an opportunity to get to know yourself (and your thoughts) better—as such, it’s an excellent tool for mining greater clarity and focus.
How Meditation May Ease Anxiety and Depression
When it comes to treating anxiety-based disorders, Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, cites mindfulness meditation as being a particularly effective management tool.
Here’s how she explained anxiety in a Harvard Health Blog article:
“People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power (and) they can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.”
In the article, Hoge also relates how mindfulness meditation can help people to recognize times when their unproductive worries arise and also train themselves to experience those thoughts differently. In short, for sufferers to see these unproductive thoughts for exactly what they are— thoughts—that need not have any real hold over them (talk about a Eureka moment).
An important study of Hoge’s, “Yoga and Meditation: Review of Current Research” appeared in the JAMA Internal Medicine Review.
In a review of relevant available research, it found that:
- Medical research supported the conclusion that yoga and meditation (two practices related to mindfulness) were a natural means of activating the body’s natural mechanisms for managing stressors such as chronic anxiety.
- The effectiveness of mindfulness programs that use meditation in managing stress could be explained by physiological changes that take place in both the brain and the body.
- These findings on the value of mindfulness in focusing attention and reducing distracting thoughts had clear clinical implications for mental health professionals and how they treated their patients.
Armed with solid empirical evidence that techniques like yoga and meditation work to combat anxiety and depression, you might be curious how variations like mindfulness meditation work.
Is it for you? Let’s explore. Here’s mindfulness meditation, in a few broad strokes.
Mindfulness Meditation and How To Practice It
Mindfulness meditation—which can be done sitting quietly or while you’re doing everyday tasks like watering your garden— is characterized as: “a technique of meditation in which distracting thoughts and feelings are not ignored but acknowledged and observed (nonjudgmentally) as they arise to create a detachment from them and gain insight and awareness.”
Standing in sharp contrast to panicked thoughts that scream “something’s wrong with me, surely I need medication,” this approach to wellness focuses on long-term sustainability.
Here’s what you need to know about mindfulness meditation:
- Creating awareness. Mindfulness is unique in that it’s not a management tool that aims at “getting you to be any different from how you already are.” Its function instead is to create awareness by re-introducing you to the self that got lost in the daily dash for success and security. Mindfulness teaches us to be unconditionally present through staying in the current moment, no matter what’s weighing on our minds. As such, it trains us to affirm life (no matter what its foibles may be).
- Location! Location! Location! Once you’ve committed to becoming more mindful, choose a location that can bring it about. We suggest a quiet room, back porch, or shady spot under the trees.
- Setting aside the time. Time management is critical—especially in the beginning—when you’re still sharpening your mindfulness honing abilities.
So make sure that you’re able to carve out distraction-free blocks of time to do your thing. Once the stage has been successfully set, take some deep breaths, settle your mind, and let the thoughts and introspection flow (without passing judgment on either).
So what constitutes success? Is it the total eradication of depressing thoughts or anxious moments? As life provides ample opportunities for these, probably not. However, mindfulness meditation can provide you the clarity and calmness you crave, while also serving as a viable long-term solution to issues like anxiety and depression. So why not give it a chance? You just might have nothing to lose but the overwhelming thoughts.