Depression and anxiety are increasingly common in our society, and many of us are trying to find ways to cope. For some, self-care habits are tremendously helpful. According to Dr. Frank Drummond, HCA Healthcare's national medical director for behavioral health, meditation is one of the most impactful self-care habits for managing depression and anxiety. Although it isn't a cure-all, there are several potential benefits of daily meditation.
What is meditation?
Meditation is a practice that involves focusing attention on the present moment. Our minds are constantly wandering; we spend so much of our days thinking about what we need to do or what we wish we would have done. In meditation, the goal isn't to stop yourself from thinking, but to acknowledge and release your thoughts and to bring your attention back to the here and now.
What are the benefits of daily meditation?
Research has shown that meditation can help to reduce levels of depression and anxiety. One study, published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, of people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) found that participants who completed at least one session of a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MSBR) program had a significantly greater reduction in anxiety than those who received stress-management education.
Studies have also found that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, an intervention that combines MSBR and cognitive behavioral therapy, reduced relapses in people who had previous episodes of major depression.
Meditation doesn't solely affect mental health; it can affect physical health as well. A 2019 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that meditation could reduce pain in people who suffered from post-surgical, acute or chronic pain.
Meditation can be used in combination with other mental health treatments and is generally safe. If you have any concerns about a meditation practice, you may want to consult your doctor or work with a certified teacher.
How can meditation help relieve depression and anxiety?
One way meditation can help relieve depression and anxiety is by changing your way of thinking. During meditation, it's natural for your thoughts to wander, and sometimes those thoughts can be negative. As you meditate, you may notice these thoughts, but recognize that you don't need to act or dwell on them. By focusing on your breathing or repeating a simple mantra, you can create distance between yourself and those negative thoughts.
Meditation can also change your brain. Studies have shown that meditation can increase gray matter in certain parts of the brain. Gray matter is where information is processed, and it makes up about 40% of the human brain. Meditation can increase the amount of gray matter in the area of the brain that regulates learning, memory and emotions.
Tips for getting started with meditation
The good thing about meditation is that you don't need anything to get started. If you can carve out a couple of minutes a day or more, you can start meditating. Here are some tips to help you get started:
- Pick a time. To make meditation part of your daily routine, it can be helpful to pick a time for meditating that you can commit to each day. Many people choose to meditate in the morning before starting their day. However, you can choose to meditate at night before going to bed, during your lunch break or after getting home from work. Sticking with a certain time each day can make it easier for meditation to become a habit.
- Pick a spot. Choose a spot where you will be comfortable and that has minimal distractions. Although you might feel more comfortable on your bed, you may run the risk of getting too comfortable and falling asleep. It may be helpful to sit on the floor or a chair instead.
- Pick a practice. There are many different types of meditation, including mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation, sound bath meditation and more. There are also apps and guided meditations that can help you get started if you're having trouble meditating on your own. There is no one-size-fits-all practice that works for everyone. Finding the right meditation practice for you might take some time, but it's important to give yourself enough time to try a technique before moving on to another one.
The benefits of daily meditation cannot be understated, but it's OK if you need more than meditation to manage your mental health. If you're feeling overwhelmed or having thoughts about self-harm, speak to a mental health professional. Your doctor may be able to refer you to someone, but there are also free and low-cost options available if you need them.
If you would like to learn more about meditation, you can listen to an HCA Healthcare podcast hosted by Dr. Drummond: "How To Create a Sustainable Meditation Practice."