Does meditation help with anxiety and depression?
Let’s just get this out of the way: The answer is yes!
I think that most of us are familiar with the concept of ‘spirituality’.
Those of us who are have probably been told about how great for you it is.
Let me be frank, I myself never bought into the hype.
One of my teachers once told me about how it opens your inner energies or something along those lines and ever since then I’ve been a skeptic.
So imagine my surprise when I researched my condition and came to a rather lengthy post on some forum about how meditation is good for you.
I don’t remember much about it, but I do remember being very surprised at how, all throughout it, there were absolutely no mentions of those words that I distrusted.
No “energy”, no “flow”, and not even a hint of spirituality whatsoever.
Back then I was in a bad place in life and had nothing to lose so I decided to try it out for a while.
And it worked.
The results weren’t immediate, but I did notice them over time and they absolutely blew my mind.
I didn’t know how this was happening to me, what was happening to me.
Now I do.
There are many scientifically proven benefits to meditation
Meditation is an ancient practice with a great history behind it.
Throughout most of this history, people noticed how meditation made them feel and invented their own terms to describe its effects.
It’s only relatively recently that these terms and ideas were translated into hard science.
Nowadays the data and the research behind meditation unanimously support it.
It is considered to be one of the best habits that a person can have, and with how little time you have to invest in it to see results, it becomes very evident why that is.
But, what are these so-called “scientifically proven benefits?”
Meditation helps you build mental resilience
The hippocampus is the part of your brain that’s responsible for memory and orientation.
When someone suffers from depression, their hippocampus loses some of its volume over time, causing it to shrink.
This can be clearly seen in people with a depressive disorder.
Not only do they have trouble remembering fine details, but the carrying out plans for earlier becomes very challenging.
These negative effects get worse over time, limiting cognitive function and making day-to-day life difficult.
That’s when meditation comes in.
As it turns out, practicing meditation actually makes that part of your brain larger!
And that’s not all – science shows that there’s a direct correlation between how long you meditate and how large you hippocampi are.
Simply put, meditation can help you focus, remember things, and stick to a given plan.
This is particularly useful at work and will allow you to be more productive despite your condition.
There are some jobs that might be better for you than others, but the benefit is pretty much universal.
Meditation manipulates your brainwave patterns the same way therapy does
The human brain is composed of many brain cells called neurons. Neurons use electricity to communicate.
All that electricity from all of these sources is what we call “brainwaves”, and much like any other “waves”, they can be measured.
Simply put, your brainwave patterns are your thoughts and emotions.
In a way, they are you.
When you are depressed or anxious, certain brainwave frequencies can be measured with the right equipment.
For example, when we are anxious or fearful, a subtype of beta brainwaves, going at a certain frequency, can be observed.
But what are alpha and theta brainwaves?
To put in simply:
- Alpha brainwaves are slow, high-amplitude brainwaves and are commonly associated with relaxation.
- Theta brainwaves are similar to alpha brainwaves, but have a higher amplitude. Theta brainwaves are associated with daydreaming.
What’s interesting here is that meditation is known, and proven, to increase both alpha and theta brainwaves.
In other words, not only will meditation help you relax and feel better, but it will also directly fight off depression and anxiety.
These sorts of changes in brainwave activity might only be temporary, but that doesn’t mean that they are useless.
For example, imagine yourself at the height of your anxiety, absolutely freaking out.
In just one short session, meditation will sort these feelings out and let you continue on with your life.
Feeling so depressed that you don’t think you can function anymore? Same thing.
Whatever your condition makes you feel, meditation can help you.
Meditation helps you handle stress better
Your amygdalae are the parts of your brain responsible for “negative emotions”.
“Negative emotions” aren’t necessarily a bad thing, your survival instincts stem directly from them.
A part of this survival instinct is your reaction to perceived danger.
Whenever you are confronted with these dangerous, scary, situations your stress response kicks in:
- Your heart rate goes up
- You start sweating
- Your blood pressure increases
- Your breathing becomes faster and more shallow
- You start feeling “on edge”
- Your muscles tighten
This reaction was extremely useful in nature, allowing humans to react to immediate dangers quickly and effectively.
Even today, some stress is definitely good for you.
That being said, when you suffer from an anxiety disorder you start having this reaction pretty much all the time, and to a very severe level.
Luckily for us, meditation is excellent for preventing this problem.
In one study they wanted to check how meditation affected the amygdalae, so they took some people and did a “before and after” kind of test on them: they did some tests, sent them to receive 8 weeks of “meditation training”, and then ran the same tests again.
Much to their shock, the amygdalae of the participants shrunk down, making them smaller.
This means that their stress response was much less overwhelming and easier to manage.
Meditation is an act of relaxation, not only does it limit the effects of stress, but it can also help you manage negative emotions in general.
Meditation is not perfect
The data is pretty conclusive – meditation is great for you.
Aside from the effects that it has on your mental health, it has plenty of other benefits as well.
Meditation can not only make you feel better, but it has benefits that will help you for years to come.
That being said, for all the good that it can do for you, meditation is not by any means perfect.
There is much that we don’t understand about the human brain.
Different people react to different forms of treatment differently.
To some, meditation might be everything that they were looking for and then some, the answer to all of their problems.
To many others, the effects might be very minimal, maybe even nonexistent.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t at least give it a try.
After all, it may very well be the solution to all of your problems.
And if it isn’t? Well, it doesn’t hurt to try.
Can meditation make anxiety and depression worse?
Some effects of meditation are bad for people who suffer from anxiety and depression
Meditation is pretty great, but in some cases, it can do more harm than good, or at the very least have some unpleasant side effects and consequences.
At its very core, meditation is an exercise that is meant to train attention and awareness.
This isn’t necessarily a good thing.
What do I mean by that? Well, here are a few examples:
- Meditation increases awareness – When you start meditating you disconnect yourself from the world, resulting in a heightened sense of awareness.
For people with depression and/or anxiety this might not be for the best.
You might become more aware of negative thoughts and feelings, something that will only make you feel worse
- Meditation might reduce motivation and cause disinterest – According to some data, meditation can reduce motivation and make people disinterested in things that they once cared for to an extent.
For people with depression, whose lack of interest is one of their problems, this might not be a good thing.
- Meditation can bring out suppressed memories and emotions – This is actually one of the points of more traditional meditation, to face one’s darkest thoughts and memories, but when we meditate we are “stuck” with only our thoughts as company, making meditation more likely to draw out past experience that you’d do without.
These aren’t just some distant, theoretical problems, either.
In one recent survey of 1,232 people, people were asked about their overall experiences with meditation.
The results show that of these 1,232 people, about 25% of the participants said that they had previously encountered particularly unpleasant meditation-related experiences.
This isn’t conclusive by any means, but it’s enough to raise some eyebrows at the very least.
“So, does that mean that I shouldn’t meditate?”
Of course it doesn’t!
Look, meditation is a great exercise for both the mind and the body, it’s a tool for relaxation.
Confronting your negative thoughts, emotions, and memories is a part of the experience.
Without learning to confront these feelings you probably won’t get far in your attempts to feel better.
I myself use the app “Insight Timer” to help me with my meditation efforts.
It contains plenty of guided meditations, music and talks that you can benefit from.
Plus, the online community there is great, and the app is free, so you could (and should) download it right now.
Another problem is that many people who meditate aren’t really doing it right.
To simplify the process for you I added a short video that summarizes the basics of proper meditation.
Does meditation help with anxiety and depression? The annoying, although accurate, answer would be “it depends”.
I know that you didn’t read through this entire article just to get an “it depends” at the end of it, but that’s the truth.
Meditation has plenty of scientifically proven benefits that, in general, will improve your condition at least a little.
It’s isn’t a perfect solution – Some people might see some benefits, others will think of it as a waste of time and for a few it might even do more harm than good.
Even so, the key to benefiting from meditation is consistency.
Give it time and you will probably see the results of your efforts.
And if not? Well, there are plenty of other things that can help you.
Either way, I think that you should give meditation a go – you aren’t going to break down if you try it once, after all.
Then again, it might be exactly what you were looking for all this time.
If you have any other questions feel free to write them down in the comment section below or to send me an email.
I always do my best to reply