Medically reviewed by Mary Lucas, MSCIS, MPhil, RN
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 10/31/2021
Depression is one of the most common forms of mental illness, with an estimated 19.4 million adults, or 7.8 percent of the US adult population in the year leading up to 2019 being affected with it.
When you’re feeling depressed, just about every aspect of your life can become affected, from your mood to your level of interest in certain hobbies and activities.
Depression is generally treated with medications known as antidepressants, either on their own or in combination with psychotherapy.
While these are generally recommended and often used as the first-line approach to treating depression, it’s often possible to improve your results by combining conventional treatments with natural options.
One such natural treatment is meditation. By meditating, it’s often possible to improve the way you feel, change your thought processes and behaviors, and make your depression symptoms easier to manage.
Below, we’ve explained what depression is, as well as how meditation may help if you’ve been diagnosed with a form of depression.
We’ve also discussed how you can use meditation on its own in combination with other treatments to overcome depression for good.
Depression is a common mood disorder that affects the way you think, feel and behave. When you’re depressed, you may experience a persistent sad or low mood, feelings of hopelessness and a reduced level of interest in the things that normally make you feel happy and satisfied.
Most people with depression are formally diagnosed after experiencing symptoms that persist for two weeks or longer.
Other forms of depression include seasonal affective disorder, psychotic depression, persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia) and in women, postpartum depression.
Depression is a serious mental illness. If you’re worried that you may have depression, it’s best to reach out for professional help as soon as you can.
Our guide to the symptoms of depression provides more information about how you may feel if you’re depressed, as well as the steps that you can take to seek treatment.
Both experts and enthusiasts alike have long known that meditation offers benefits for relieving stress and promoting calmness.
However, it’s only recently that research has started to support the idea that meditation may play a role in treating and managing depression.
At first, the idea of meditating to overcome depression might not seem quite right. After all, isn’t depression usually treated with medication and therapy?
The reality is that while meditation may not be enough to treat depression by itself, it offers real benefits that make it worth considering as part of your treatment routine.
Experts believe that meditation may help to treat depression by changing certain regions of the brain, including those affected by depression.
For example, research has found that two areas of the brain are involved with depression -- the amygdala, or “fear center,” which helps to regulate your body’s release of stress hormones, and the medial prefrontal cortex, which is involved in processing information about yourself.
If you’re depressed, these areas of your brain can work together as part of a feedback loop that causes you to respond to feelings of stress and anxiety with more stress and anxiety.
Meditation may help to disrupt the link between these areas of your brain, reducing the feelings of worry and negativity that can occur when you’re depressed.
Several studies back up the theory that meditation helps with depression. In a review published in the journal Psychosomatics, researchers noted that a “substantial body of evidence” suggests that meditation may help people suffering from clinical depressive disorders during certain stages of treatment.
In a separate review published in the journal Psychology Research and Behavior Management, researchers stated that current evidence supports mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) to decrease the risk of relapse in people being treated for depression.
Put simply, meditation appears to help people with depression to recover and reduces the risk of their depressive symptoms re-emerging after treatment.
Beyond its positive effects on depression, meditating has numerous other mental and physical health benefits. Other benefits of meditation include:
Less stress and anxiety. Research has found that meditation can reduce anxiety and stress levels. Just like with depression, studies show that meditation can change areas of the brain associated with stress and anxiety.
Lower blood pressure. In a National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH)-funded clinical trial, researchers found that a form of meditation called Transcendental Meditation may help to lower blood pressure levels in people at risk of developing high blood pressure.
Fewer nicotine cravings. In cigarette smokers, meditation appears to make kicking the habit easier. Research has found that smokers who meditate have less severe cravings to smoke and a greater reduction in cigarette use.
Improved brain function. In addition to affecting areas of the brain that are associated with depression, meditation may cause changes in the brain that improve your ability to process information and regulate emotions.
Better sleep. Research suggests that mindfulness-based therapy, a treatment approach that combines therapy with mindfulness meditation, is helpful in treating sleep difficulties such as chronic insomnia.
Meditation is something that you can do in just a few minutes a day. One of the simplest forms of meditation is mindfulness meditation, which involves learning how to focus attention on your breathing patterns and gain control over your thoughts.
Try the following steps to practice mindfulness meditation at home:
Find a comfortable place to sit. You can sit down on the floor or on a chair, sofa or any other surface that feels comfortable to you. Choose a calm, peaceful environment where you can relax without distractions.
Set a timer. There’s no minimum or maximum amount of time to meditate. When you’re first getting started, try to pick a short period of time for each meditation session, such as five to 15 minutes.
Focus on your breathing. Try to focus all of your attention on your breathing. Pay close attention to the air as it travels in and out of your mouth and lungs. Take slow and natural breaths, focusing on the sensation of breathing.
If your mind wanders, draw it back to your breathing. It’s completely normal for your mind to start wandering while you meditate. If your attention leaves your breathing, try to gently bring it back without feeling worried or disappointed.
As you finish, notice how you feel. When your timer goes off, or when you feel ready to stop meditating, gently open your eyes. Pay attention to how you feel, both physically and mentally, as you return to your normal day.
When you’re first getting started, try to set aside time for meditation practice every day, even if it’s only a few minutes. Over time, you may want to try different types of meditation, such as:
Transcendental meditation (TM)
Mindfulness-based stress reduction
Body scan meditation
There’s no right or wrong way to meditate. Try experimenting with different types of meditation to find out what fits your needs the best.
You can meditate at home on your own, or join others as part of a meditation group in your area.
Meditation can be a helpful tool for managing depression symptoms, but it’s not generally considered or prescribed as a first-line treatment for depression.
If you’re feeling depressed, you should reach out to a licensed mental health provider. You can do this by asking your primary care provider for a mental health referral, by contacting a mental health provider in your area or by using our online mental health services.
To treat your depression, your mental health provider may prescribe antidepressants or suggest taking part in online counseling.
Depression is generally treated using antidepressants -- medications that increase the levels of certain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, in your brain.
Common types of antidepressants include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which work by targeting the chemical serotonin.
Your mental health provider may recommend this type of medication if your depression symptoms don’t improve on their own.
It can take several weeks for antidepressants to start working. You may need to use medication for several months to start noticing improvements in your depression, and in some cases you may even feel worse at the beginning, but it’s important to not stop taking the medication without consulting your healthcare provider.
Make sure to closely follow your healthcare provider’s instructions if you’re provided any type of medication to treat your depression symptoms.
Like other forms of mental illness, depression often gets better with psychotherapy, either on its own or in combination with medication.
Several types of psychotherapy are used to treat depression, including a form of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
Cognitive behavioral therapy involves identifying the distorted thought processes that cause you to feel depressed, then implementing certain techniques to change your thinking and behavioral patterns.
As part of CBT, you and your mental health provider will work together, with a focus on assisting you to develop a mental toolkit to make progress on your own.
Our guide to therapy for depression goes into more detail about how therapy works, as well as what you can expect from the therapy process.
Depression is a serious mental illness that requires active treatment. While antidepressants and psychotherapy are the most common first-line treatments for depression, there’s also a place for meditation in controlling your symptoms and improving your quality of life.
If you’re feeling depressed and want to seek help, you can talk to a licensed provider online with our online psychiatry services.
Following an online consultation, you’ll receive ongoing follow-up care and medication management.
To get started with meditation, try adding a few minutes of meditative practice to your morning or evening routine.
Over time, you may start to notice that mindfulness-based meditation improves your symptoms and helps you in your recovery from depression.
For more help dealing with depression, check out our free mental health resources and content, which feature effective strategies for dealing with symptoms, practicing mindfulness and making progress towards conquering your depression for good.
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