Why meditation is good for depression
You know those down-days you have when you feel low and can't get out of bed? Or maybe you've made it out of bed, but life is joy-less and lacks fun and colour? Or you lack confidence and wonder what's the point? Or you simply feel invisible or that you're a waste of space?
If you've answered no then lucky you. Short and long-term mental health challenges such as depression are very real with depression affecting as much as 5% of the adult population globally. That means approximately 280 million people in the world are living with clinical depression right now, with even more living with low level symptoms.
Clinical depression (meaning depression that last two weeks or more) presents with symptoms such as low mood, loss of enjoyment in usual activities, feelings of excessive guilt, aches and pains, hopelessness about the future, suicide ideation and can be accompanied by poor sleep, loss of appetite and poor focus and concentration.
Depression can cause the affected person to function poorly at school/work/home and at it's worst can be fatal. Globally suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for 15-29-year-olds. In the UK, suicide is the leading cause of deaths for men between 5-49.
Depression can arise out of:
stressful life circumstances such as a bereavement, redundancy, a relationship break up or even childbirth
physical health issues such as cardiovascular disease or hormone imbalance (e.g hypothyroidism, the menopause)
traumatic childhood experiences
a history of family trauma
loneliness and lack of social interaction
a poor diet
drug and alcohol addictions
poor gut health
lack of sleep
multiple issues all at once.
Therefore anything that can help tackle depression and bring health and happiness back to someone's life, is definitely something worth exploring.
Meeting life head on
Meditation can be a valuable part of treating and/or learning to peacefully co-exist with depression.
In meditation you learn to develop a 'single point focus'. This helps us to take back control of our minds rather than them controlling us. This is particularly useful in the case of depression (and anxiety by the way) where the depression is often accompanied (or sometimes even created) by unchecked toxic thinking.
What's toxic thinking?
Anything that isn't truthful is toxic.
I am useless
Nobody loves me
They wouldn't notice if I was gone
Everyone is x,y,z ... than me
It will never change
I'm not worth listening too
I can't do it (whatever "it" is)
I deserve to be punished
People can't be trusted
The world is a horrible place
I/we will never have what we need.
Single point focus
Once you've learnt to develop single point focus (there are lots of different meditation techniques to do this), you can extend that focus outwards into awareness.
Awareness is more expansive than attention. When we become aware of something it's like we're noticing it, but we're not connected to it.
For example, in depression we may put a lot of attention of our feelings of low mood, toxic thinking and what we can't do (and perhaps what we "should" be doing instead). However, if we observe our low mood from awareness there's a level of detachment to it.
We start to see the low mood rather than be in a low mood.
This level of detachment can start to give us some space and some perspective and let the healing process begin. Awareness gives us a window of reprieve from the intensity and incessant nature of depression, so our source energy, which is the energy both us and the whole cosmos is made from, can do some much needed repair work and once again take front and centre in our life.
Plus there's more.
Because in a true meditation practice your 'single point focus' becomes your Self.
Not your physical form, not even your character, job description or personality, but the aspect of you that is permanent.
This part of you goes by many names; God, prana, chi, love, consciousness, presence; you may have your own favourite.
This omnipresent energy is something you've simply borrowed to make a body, a mind and everything associated with your existence.
Consider this concept like a raindrop. A raindrop has been many things before it falls as a droplet out of the sky and into your awareness. It might have been a watermelon, a river, in blood, a leaf, steam or a cup of tea.
We all know that water has been cycled through rocks, plants and our bodies many many times and it will continue to do so.
Now think about this is terms of the energy that makes up what you identify as "you". Whilst it might look solid, your body is made of constantly moving energy. Yesterday's pizza is today's heart, lung and skin cells, and today's air intake fuels our glucose production for our body to do work.
This means might your thoughts also be transitory energy too?
I like to observe my low mood and toxic thinking as if it's a cloud and I am the sun. Doing so means I respect it rather than try and hide and be in denial about it (this takes a lot of courage). I observe the low mood non-judgementally (another big feature of meditation) and let it be there for however long it needs.
In doing so I find the cloud invariably changes. It often lightens, becomes less dense or provides valuable insight into where I may be compromising my Self or trying to open a locked door.
"I've got sunshine, on a cloudy day" My Girl - The Temptations
Old thoughts and beliefs may come up in this time. I can see them for what they are, temporary creations of unhelpful thinking and set about letting that thinking go.
Every time I do this, I strengthen my sense of Self and protect myself from future untruthful thinking.
Now writing this makes it all sound so easy! In reality, that's not always so.
Whilst the task of getting to know the permanent aspect of yourself is easy, staying in awareness of it and experiencing it for more than a nanosecond at the beginning, can be hard.
Our minds LOVE to think! It is it's job after all and for a lot of people the mind is VERY good at it. However, we are not our minds. It's our Self we want to build a solid relationship with.
Getting help in those early days of learning meditation can be crucial to getting beyond those initial difficulties such as talking yourself out of even trying.
You'd recruit a teacher/coach if you wanted to get good at a language, musical instrument or a sport, so why not recruit one to learn meditation?
Alternatively, if the idea of finding your true Self seems simply too overwhelming right now, then I would recommend a healing session with an energy healing practice such as Reiki.
In Reiki the energy is channelled for you by the practitioner. The practitioner will already have an established meditation practice and will be able to bring awareness to your issues without being caught up in them. This awareness helps to bring about the same shifts as meditation practice, with the added bonus that you simply lie on the couch and receive for up to as long as a hour!
A holistic approach
Because the causes and consequences of depression are diverse, addressing or learning to live with depression requires a diverse approach. Talk therapy, coaching, nutrition, sleep hygiene, getting physical, emotional and financial support all plays a part.
Whatever approach you take to treat depression, meditation and Reiki always have a place in supporting us to be the wonderful expressions of consciousness and love that we were born to be.
I would be delighted to support you on any journey that you choose.