Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. About 16 million American adults have had at least one depressive episode and the rate of depression appears to be increasing. The increasing rate of depression is partly due to greater awareness and more people seeking help, but it may also be due in part to greater economic insecurity, societal changes, and higher addiction rates. Although depression is a widespread problem, we don’t know a lot about it. Brain chemistry appears to play an important part, as does personal history, such as major trauma or childhood abuse. We know nutrition plays a part. And recently, there has been research showing that inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein is highly correlated with depression. With so many different theories about the causes of depression, it perhaps makes sense that treating it requires a multifaceted approach. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, has been shown to be effective in treating depression. Antidepressant medications such as SSRIs are also effective in about half of cases. Lifestyle interventions such as improved diet and regular exercise also seem to help. One more promising way of improving symptoms is mindfulness meditation. Here are some ways it can help you beat depression.
It makes you more aware of your thoughts and feelings.
It may sound strange, but a common feature of depression is that you lose touch with your thoughts and feelings. Depression is often thought of as feeling overwhelmed by sadness, but many people experience depression as emotional numbness. People with depression sometimes get so used to swallowing anger, pain, and resentment that they are no longer conscious of feeling pain or anger, just a sort of bland hopelessness. Mindfulness practice can help you restore contact with those buried feelings. That may not sound desirable, but it’s a necessary first step. By becoming more aware of your thoughts and feelings, you can get a sense of what’s causing the trouble. CBT depends on recognizing and changing the inaccurate thoughts that lead to negative emotions. If those thoughts and emotions are below the radar, it’s hard to challenge them.
It makes you more tolerant of discomfort.
Studies have found that the emotional pain people with depression experience is actually not much different from physical pain. The parts of brain that light up when you dwell on a painful memory are mostly the same parts that light up when you bang your shin on the coffee table. Studies have also found something very interesting about how the brains of long-time meditators process pain. It’s not that they experience pain less intensely than other people, or that they distract themselves by focusing on something else. What makes meditators different is that they experience pain as they would other sensations. In a sense, they don’t categorize pain as pain and judge it as bad. They accept it and consciously examine it. It becomes an object of interest. This is important for people with depression because the natural reflex is avoidance, which often just multiplies problems. Avoidance also frequently leads to substance use and addiction. By learning to tolerate the pain of depression and the challenging emotions that come with it, you can be less controlled by it. This is one reason mindfulness is a standard part of dialectical behavioral therapy, or DBT, a form of therapy used to treat borderline personality disorder and other conditions with chaotic emotions.
It may increase compassion.
Compassion is an important quality to cultivate when recovering from depression. It helps you connect to others and it helps you stop beating yourself up. Mindfulness practice helps cultivate compassion by bringing you into the present. Often, the negativity of depression comes from internalized criticism, adherence to unreasonable standards, or fear of things that might not happen. This kind of thinking can make you impatient and critical. Mindfulness practice gives you a little space from those thoughts and beliefs that are causing you stress. You can more easily have compassion for others and let yourself off the hook.
It helps you relax.
Most people aren’t aware of how tense they are most of the time. If you struggle with depression or anxiety, you are probably more tense than most people. Setting aside a few minutes every day to notice what’s going on in your mind and body makes you aware of that tension and you can practice letting it go. This helps reduce stress and improves your health.
It helps you let go of worry and rumination.
When you’re depressed and/or anxious, you are typically beset by rumination and worry. Rumination is thinking of something bad from your past over and over, whereas worry is obsessing over something that might go wrong in the future. Most people realize that after a certain point, this is irrational. You can learn from your mistakes and you can prepare for future challenges, but worrying yourself sick over something you can’t really control is not helpful. Mindfulness meditation is essentially a way of practicing being present and letting go of worry and rumination. And letting go of worry and rumination takes a lot of practice because we reflexively want to hold onto them. What’s more, practicing mindfulness meditation to stay present also reduces mind wandering. Mind wandering is helpful in small doses. For example, it can help you digest new information and it can help you be more creative. However, too much mind wandering has been linked to depression and anxiety. It gives the brain’s default mode network free rein, which tends to lead to rumination and worry. Mindfulness practice has been shown to strengthen the left prefrontal cortex, which helps keep the default mode network under control.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction or mental illness, we can help. Recovery Ways is a premier drug and alcohol addiction treatment facility located in Salt Lake City, Utah. We have the resources to effectively treat a dual diagnosis. Our mission is to provide the most cost-effective, accessible substance abuse treatment to as many people as possible. Request information online or call us today at 1-888-986-7848.