Meditation for Depression: How to Get Started and Stay Motivated

Meditation for Depression

meditation for depression

Depression is not simply about feeling sad and it is an emotional struggle that many people endure yet not many understand. Many stigmas exist around depression and often anybody that feels low in mood is described as depressed by most. A big factor that fuels symptoms in people with depression is the lack of understanding surrounding the disorder as a whole within society. It affects the sufferer’s quality of life to a great extent and often it can be associated with generalized anxiety disorder.

A condition called Depressive Disorder (Major Depression or Recurrent Depression) is characterized by loss of interest and enjoyment. It’s more than just being sad and has a huge impact on a person’s quality of life. Depression has several symptoms and types. The levels of symptoms and severity are different but they all lead to emotional and mental challenges in daily life. Symptoms of depression can lead to increased suicidal thoughts.

Disclaimer: Although meditation is a powerful tool to manage mental disorders such as depression, utilizing researched mindfulness-based therapy is not aimed to replace therapy or any other medical treatments and therefore is not a  sufficient treatment of depression. Please seek professional help if you feel it is needed. The following practices are a great way to help you alongside medical help. A meditation program or mindfulness-based intervention does not aim to replace therapy for people with depression in any way but rather acts as a support for therapy on anxiety and depression.

Symptoms of Depression include:

  • Sense of sadness, hopelessness, emptiness
  • Symptoms are recurrent (recurrent depression)
  • Anger, frustration, irritation at minor things (drastic mood changes)
  • Lack of interest and pleasure in most activities
  • Lack of sleep or too much sleep
  • Low energy and increase in tiredness (takes a lot of effort to do minor things)
  • Increase/decrease in appetite which results in increase/decrease in weight
  • Anxiety, agitation and restlessness (or other anxiety symptoms)
  • Slow in mental and physical activities
  • Increase in feelings of guilt, unworthiness, self-blame
  • Ruminating over past failures
  • Low memory, concentration and focus (quality of cognitive functions decrease)
  • Suicidal thoughts (major or severe depression)
  • Physical pain that can’t be explained (muscular tension)
  • Could be linked to other psychiatric disorders

How Depression Affects Your Mental Health

Depression affects the way people think about themselves and their lives and therefore their overall well-being. It also causes changes in behavior such as sleeping too much or not enough, eating habits, and lack of energy. These behaviors are called somatic complaints. They may include feeling tired all the time, having trouble falling asleep at night, being unable to concentrate on tasks, and losing weight without trying.

What’s more, the depressive disorder makes you feel like your life isn’t worth living and you struggle to find a purpose of self-worth or any sort of direction. You might even start thinking about suicide. This is why it’s so important for someone who feels depressed to get help from family members, friends, teachers, counselors, clergy, doctors, therapists, etc. If they don’t have anyone else to turn to, then they should talk with their doctor. Depression can spiral into many other mental health disorders or illnesses such as eating disorders or anxiety/panic disorder.

 Treatments for Depression – How Mindfulness & Meditation Helps Relieve Depression

Type of Meditation does not aim to act as a treatment for depression and therefore it works best alongside other effective treatment such as medical or psychological interventions. Treatment for depression should be administered by a medical professional. It does however have many health benefits, both mentally and physically.

 Evidence shows that the main triggers of depression are stress and anxiety. Meditation helps alter those feelings and thoughts by training your brain to focus on one thing. When negative thoughts come knocking, the brain returns to that focus point, allowing the negative emotions and physical sensations to pass.

It works on specific regions of the brain linked with depression. For example, the area concerned with the self tends to go into overdrive when you’re stressed. This is known as the prefrontal cortex that creates information about you.

Another brain region that depression affects is the amygdala also known as the “fear region.” This region tells you whether to fight or flee when faced with danger. It makes the adrenal glands produce cortisol , a stress hormone that responds to fear and threat. These two regions work hard against each other causing depression. The “me center” works to react to stress and the fear center responds to a danger that is only in your mind. Source:

There is moderate evidence and numerous studies done that suggest, when the hippocampus and amygdala shrink, you become more vulnerable to the adverse effects of stress and anxiety. Depression inflames the brain, causing a chemical imbalance and decreased neurotransmitter functionality.

Luckily, mindfulness and meditation can help retrain the brain, regulate emotions, and restore the brain’s chemical balance which greatly affects our mood. “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” researcher Madhav Goyal explains. “But that’s not true.

Mindful breathing exercises calm the nervous system and reduce feelings of tension and agitation. They also improve concentration and focus on the tasks at hand. In one study, participants who practiced mindful breathing were less likely to experience negative thoughts or emotional reactions than those who didn’t practice mindful breathing.

Meditation helps train the brain to recognize when its attention wanders off task.

”Mindfulness is effective in treating mild-to-moderate depression. A recent review found that mindfulness interventions reduced depressive symptoms among adults with major depressive disorder. Another meta-analysis showed that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was superior to antidepressants in reducing depressive symptoms.

Meditation techniques such as focused attention, open monitoring, loving-kindness, compassion, and body scan can help alleviate depression. Focused attention involves focusing on an object while ignoring distractions.

Meditation for depression – to reduce depressive symptoms:

It helps you to change your thought patterns and response to negative thoughts as well as giving you a sense of direction and purpose in life as you turn introspectively and start to confront challenges that might be holding you back from your deepest desires. There is strong evidence that suggests that meditation increases your neuroplasticity (the ability for your brain to create new neural connections and pathways which result in different ways of thinking or thought patterns).

It does not necessarily replace the negative thought with a positive one (if only it was that easy) but it allows us to notice the negative thought, accept it as one possibility but also know that it is not the only possibility. This way it trains our brain to manage thoughts – similar to that of anxiety. We are therefore not getting rid of the negative thought (this feeds into the idea of toxic positivity – “just be happy!”) but we are seeing the thought from an outside perspective rather than experiencing it.

Meditation doesn’t involve pushing away these thoughts or pretending you don’t have them. Instead, you notice and accept them, then let them go. In this way, meditation can help disrupt cycles of negative thinking. (

How Mindful Meditation Can Improve Your Mental Health

There are various ways to meditate and they all have beneficial effects through the use of mindfulness-based therapy, but here we will discuss how meditation helps us cope up with depression and reduce depression symptoms.

1. Focus On Present Moment

When you’re stressed out, anxious, angry, frustrated, worried, upset, confused, overwhelmed, disappointed, hurt, lonely, bored, guilty, ashamed, embarrassed, or anything negative, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters right now. In fact, when you’re caught up in these unwanted thoughts and feelings, it becomes harder and harder to see reality clearly. Instead of letting them take hold of you, try using this simple technique to stay focused on what really matters—the positive aspects of your day or week.

2. Let Go Of Negative Thoughts And Feelings

When you practice mindful awareness meditation regularly, you learn to notice painful thoughts and feelings before acting upon them. As soon as you become aware of uncomfortable emotions, you begin to distance yourself from those thoughts and feelings. By doing this, you train your mind to recognize unpleasant sensations early, long before they cause harm. Once you’ve identified an emotional trigger, you’ll learn to calm down rather than react automatically. Over time, you’ll gain control over both your body and your mind.

3. Connect With Others

In addition to learning to manage your own difficult emotions, practicing meditation teaches you to connect with others in a meaningful way. Mindful awareness allows you to pay close attention to another person while remaining completely detached from the experience. Rather than judging the individual based on his or her actions, you simply observe each interaction objectively. Through this kind of nonjudgmental observation, you develop empathy for everyone around you.

4. Increase Self Awareness

Mindfulness practices teach you to accept yourself exactly as you are. No matter what happens during your day, no one expects you to always act perfectly well-adjusted.

According to 2016 researchTrusted Source, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, an approach to psychotherapy that incorporates mindfulness meditation practices, can help lower your chances of depression relapse.

What Mindfulness Techniques Help With Depression

There are many techniques and one is not necessarily better than the other one yet there is clear evidence that doing any mindfulness practice is helpful.

Here is a simple way to drop into a present moment

1. Get comfortable – either sitting or lying down

2. Focus on breathing deeply

3. Notice any physical sensations associated with focusing on your breath

4. Let each exhale be longer than your inhales

5. When you start feeling anxious, distracted, or agitated, gently bring your attention back to your breath

6. Repeat steps 3 through 5 until you feel calm again

7. Continue practicing throughout the day if possible

8. If you find yourself struggling to meditate consistently, try using guided imagery techniques instead.

Try this to help manage depression- Meditation for Anxiety and Depression:

10-minute mindfulness meditation – You Are Not Alone

What it’s like to meditate with depression

Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability around the world. It’s a universal dilemma, with many researched treatments, meditation and mindfulness although not treatment are examples of solutions that have grown very popular among many lately.

One study focused on two groups of adults with GAD, one of which explored treatment using stress reduction. The group that received the same meditation training reported lower levels of stress in the body.

Many are hesitant to use meditation as a form of recovery despite the clear benefits.

My journey with depression involved a long struggle, and my recovery was hindered by many internal battles. I was forced to wrestle with the notion that I wasn’t the strong-minded character that I previously believed myself to be. And that, perhaps, I didn’t quite fit with the preconceived societal ideas of what it means to “be a man”.

I now know this to be untrue, but this internal conflict left me fighting my depression, as though it were a war to be won. When meditation was recommended by a therapist as a way of taking time to relax, reflect, and accept my current situation, I immediately shunned it. I first read about acceptance in Claire Weekes’s book “Self Help for Your Nerves”.

At the time, it didn’t quite align with my desire to wage warfare on what was happening inside my head. Initially, meditation and acceptance drew connotations of long, silent retreats at temples in distant mountains. I’ve always been a practically minded person, but having been young and naïve at the time, I wasn’t prepared to be persuaded otherwise.

Especially when that thinking was clouded by the logic-stripping nature of depression. Months passed, and I wasn’t finding relief; instead, desperation made me feel iller, and it became clear that my strategy of “fighting” wasn’t working. It was then that I turned back to the ideas of mindfulness, relaxation, and acceptance. I again picked up Weekes’s book, which became my recovery bible, and committed myself to a routine of daily meditation.

I won’t lie, it was incredibly tough to meditate at first. Trying to relax and accept thoughts of suicide and depression felt like an impossible task, and I awkwardly fidgeted my way through meditation. However, once I began to distance myself from depression, and to see it as an external problem that didn’t define me, it became much easier to practice meditation. I won’t say that I enjoyed reflecting on my darker thoughts, but I began to realize that they didn’t have to be permanent.

These periods of reflection became a great time for me to take stock of where I was at with my mental health. I could assess the highs and lows that I’d experienced during that day or week. Better yet, I could actually feel the positive impacts of meditation. 

It became clear to me that meditation was the perfect skill to develop when experiencing depression. While sometimes tough, practicing meditation would help to encourage contentment when depression loomed large. And to learn that meditation could be just as effective as antidepressant medication was hugely encouraging, as I never felt comfortable taking pills.

I realized that meditation needed to be a regular fixture in my life. Especially now when I can happily say that meditation remains part of my daily routine and allows me to navigate depression with a greater sense of ease. If you’re suffering, and unsure where to turn, here are two crucial pieces of advice: Firstly, you may feel that meditation isn’t for you, and that’s OK. It’s important to understand that it’s not a necessity, but it certainly helped me. What is important is to learn to accept a situation, rather than fight it, and to also understand that all things change.

Although there may be dark clouds currently, the blue sky is never too far behind, which has been an instrumental new perspective for me. Secondly, try not to overwhelm yourself with thoughts about what the right routine might be. There are many avenues available, and I often (and unnecessarily) stressed myself out about whether a combination of routines was the “right” one.

Meditation is one excellent tool, and it can be helpful to use it in conjunction with other routines. Consider other elements such as daily exercise and therapy. For me, I found Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) extremely useful, especially when used in combination with the mindfulness-based approach of meditation. Find a routine that sits well with you, and try to stick with it.

This is perhaps unsurprising, given that meditation physically changes our brains and turns our emotional well-being.

Research has found that those who meditate daily can experience a breakdown in the neural connections in the brain that induce feelings of fear or anxiety. Additionally, it builds connections in the brain that relate to our level of empathy, as well as our ability to assess problems rationally.

A study conducted by Harvard Medical School found that positive changes can take place after just eight weeks of beginning a meditation practice. These changes also have the added benefit of strengthening our memory and increasing our levels of happiness. 

While it may take time, a routine, along with acceptance, can greatly improve mental health.

What type of mindful meditation is best for depression or generalized anxiety disorder 

 Many forms of meditation exist and physical exercises such as practicing breathing techniques are very helpful. There, however, is no right or wrong way to meditate and no meditation type is better than the other – they all hold the same benefits it just comes down to personal preference. What works for some may not necessarily work for you.

Try exploring different types and techniques to find which resonates with you more. Remember to be patient with yourself and your mind. Meditation is not a quick fix to anything in fact it does not aim to fix anything – it is rather a process of constantly learning and unlearning parts of yourself through present self-discovery as you channel your inner emotions and thoughts.

Everybody deserves to feel worthy, everybody deserves to feel a sense of purpose and feel loved by self, everybody deserves to feel empowered in the direction of their life’s path. Everybody deserves to release the control that depression might be having on their quality of life. Everybody deserves to take that control back and dissolve negative thoughts. Going on the journey of mindfulness might be the first step to learn about yourself and let go of the belief that you don’t have control. One cannot be depression but one simply experiences it.

About author: bianca

Yoga and meditation instructor, holistic personal trainer, nutritional advisor, website and content designer, blog writer, professional dancer, performing artist, voice-over actor, and choreographer.