Research shows that meditation can help lower stress, improve sleep, and decrease pain. In this SingleCare article, Mindpath Health’s Julian Lagoy, MD, discusses how meditation should be paired with other interventions, like therapy, sleep, and changes in activity levels to reduce symptoms and promote overall wellness.
When most people hear the word meditation, they probably imagine someone sitting perfectly still in a quiet room, legs crossed, zoned out in a state of total bliss. But meditation can be performed in many different ways, and while it does take some practice to get the hang of it, even just a few minutes a day can help reduce some symptoms of common mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.
“Research shows that meditation helps to lower stress hormones, improve attention, improve sleep, and decrease pain in the body,” says Michele Goldman, Psy.D.
Why does meditation help anxiety and depression?
Evidence-based studies suggests that meditation can disrupt the relationship between the prefrontal cortex, which perceives fear and danger, and the amygdala, which triggers the adrenal glands to release the stress hormone cortisol in response, according to Monisha Bhanote, MD.
People with depression typically have hyperactive prefrontal cortices; this means they perceive more heightened threats of fear and danger, and in turn, produce more cortisol. Studies suggest this same relationship is at work in anxiety conditions, too.
Can meditation treat anxiety and depression?
While research shows that meditation can be a powerful tool in your treatment plan for anxiety and depression, whether it can “cure” or “heal” your brain all on its own depends on many different factors, from family history to individual lifestyle.
The biggest factor, says Julian Lagoy, MD, a psychiatrist with Mindpath Health, is the severity of your condition: “It’s definitely possible for meditation to treat depression and anxiety if it’s very mild, but for moderate and severe cases, an individual should definitely see a professional for help.”
Meditation alone is not likely to be effective at treating moderate to severe symptoms; in those cases, meditation should be paired with other interventions, such as therapy, medication, sleep hygiene, and changes in activity levels to achieve the best results in reducing symptoms and promoting overall wellness.
6 meditation tips for people with anxiety and depression
If you think meditation could be helpful in the treatment of your anxiety and depression, you may still be stuck on how to get started.
Meditation practices are most successful when they are consistently practiced. Choose a time of day when you won’t feel rushed or pressured to meditate, find a location that’s typically quiet and distraction-free, and have a plan for that day’s session so you can jump right in.
Aim for short, daily sessions
You can start with a one-minute meditation and work your way up.
If you’re a true beginner, start with five minutes, and see if you can gradually increase to 10 to 20 minutes per day. Try to stick with your goal for at least eight weeks.
Put away distractions
If you need your computer or smartphone to run a guided meditation program, that’s fine…but make sure your phone is set to “do not disturb” so you’re not constantly distracted by text messages and emails. (And if you don’t need your phone to meditate, put it away completely!)
Join a group
If you’re struggling to stick to a routine or prioritize your meditation practice, try signing up with a local group or online course. You could also ask a few friends to learn along with you and work to keep one another accountable.
We’ve used the word “practice” a lot with regard to meditation, and that’s because it takes a lot of practice.
Be kind to yourself
One of the most important components to meditation is non-judgment. You should try to make your meditation sessions a judgment-free zone—it’s okay if you aren’t always great at quieting your mind and it’s okay if random thoughts come and go during your meditation practice.
Other treatment options for anxiety and depression
If you have moderate to severe anxiety disorders or depression, it’s possible you’ll need to combine meditation with talk therapy, or a prescription medication designed to reduce your symptoms. Dr. Lagoy says meditation and medication combined can be a successful treatment approach. Talk therapy is a frontline treatment for both depression and anxiety.
There’s no one type of anti-anxiety or anti-depression medication that works well for everyone, but selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the frontline treatment unless you have a medical condition or take other medications that limit use of SSRIs.
If you can’t take SSRIs, other medication options for anxiety and depression. Your healthcare provider can recommend the best prescription drug for you based on your symptoms, medical and family history, and other lifestyle concerns.
Read the full SingleCare article with sources.