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Can Meditation Help Treat My Depression?

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Photography by Maskot/Getty Images

Photography by Maskot/Getty Images

by Clara Siegmund

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Medically Reviewed by:

Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW, ACSW, RDDP

•••••

by Clara Siegmund

•••••

Medically Reviewed by:

Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW, ACSW, RDDP

•••••

Meditation and mindfulness practices might be beneficial additions to your depression toolkit. Learn about the ways this practice can help alleviate your symptoms and the variety of benefits it offers.

Meditation and mindfulness practices use a variety of techniques to help you center yourself and connect your mind to your body.

In addition to numerous other benefits, meditation and mindfulness can help with depression. These practices may provide supplementary treatment to expand your care, ease your symptoms, and reduce the risk of relapse.

Here’s what you should know about meditation and depression and how these practices may help you manage your symptoms.

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What is meditation?

Meditation is the umbrella term for a wide range of diverse meditative techniques and practices that aim to calm and center the mind, build and embrace awareness of the present moment, and aid in body-mind integration.

People have been meditating for thousands of years. Many forms of meditation have roots in Eastern cultures. Traditionally, meditation is an important part of religions like Hinduism and Buddhism.

Meditation and meditative practices are found in other religions, cultures, and teachings, too, and various techniques are increasingly practiced around the world.

There are lots of different forms of meditation and ways of practicing, including:

  • Mindfulness meditation: Focus on the present, paying attention to things like breath awareness and bodily sensations, and note thoughts without judgment as they pass through your mind.
  • Focused meditation: Concentrate on any of the five senses, using your breath as a guide, in order to center yourself and help sharpen your focus and attention.
  • Transcendental meditation: Focus on a mantra that you repeat internally. This is intended to quiet the mind and help you reach a state of calm, peace, and pure consciousness.
  • Loving-kindness meditation: Cultivate kindness, love, compassion, and acceptance for yourself and others by focusing kind and loving energy inward and outward. Also known as metta meditation, this form is intended in part to help reduce negative emotions toward yourself or others and develop unconditional love for all beings.
  • Movement meditation: Engage in practices like tai chi, qigong, or yoga in which movement helps to strengthen the connection between your mind, your body, and the present moment.
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Does meditation help depression?

Meditation is thought to enhance emotional well-being, improve emotional stability, strengthen the connection between body and mind, offer physical benefits, and more.

Anecdotal experience and clinical research also suggest that meditation and mindfulness can help depression and other mental health conditions.

A 2022 systematic review examined studies on mindfulness in young adults, finding that mindfulness interventions helped to reduce depression and ease depressive symptoms.

Mindfulness practices were more effective at reducing depression in people with clinical diagnoses than in people without, suggesting that these practices may even be more helpful if you have depression.

The authors of a 2018 systematic review and meta-analysis found that meditative movement, including tai chi, qigong, and yoga, helps to relieve depressive symptoms and has positive effects on depression treatment. The review also notes that these meditative practices tend to have no serious side effects.

A study from 2015 looked at group mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which combines mindfulness meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy to help people become more aware of their body, mind, and feelings.

The study found that an 8-week MBCT program was as effective as maintenance treatment with antidepressants for:

  • preventing depression relapse
  • reducing residual depressive symptoms
  • improving quality of life

Other research, like a 2017 systematic review, indicates that MBCT may even offer effective supplemental treatment for more severe forms of depression, like treatment-resistant depression. The review also notes that combining antidepressants and MBCT may be the most effective way to treat depression and avoid relapse.

All of this suggests that various meditation and mindfulness practices can be useful additions to your existing treatment regimen. Supplementing treatment methods like talk therapy or antidepressants with meditation and mindfulness techniques can help you manage your symptoms even more effectively.

How does meditation help depression?

Scientists are still working to determine how meditation practices may help with depression, chemically-speaking.

One theory is related to pro-inflammatory cytokines — chemicals released in response to stress that control inflammation in the body.

Research has shown that depression may be linked to chronically higher levels of these inflammation-causing chemicals. It’s thought that this prolonged exposure to inflammation may be part of what causes certain changes in neurotransmitters that can lead to depression or make symptoms worse.

How does this relate to meditation?

While more study is required, some research indicates that mind-body interventions like meditation and mindfulness techniques may help lower levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, which reduces inflammation. Reducing inflammation could, in turn, help relieve psychological symptoms associated with inflammation, including depression and anxiety.

Additionally, meditation techniques can alleviate symptoms that can result from or lead to depression, which may also help ease depression overall.

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What are the benefits of meditation?

Like other forms of complementary treatment, meditation shouldn’t replace your current treatment regimen.

But meditation can still be beneficial for depression treatment — particularly when used as a supplement to other treatment methods, like talk therapy or medication.

Here’s just some of what the research shows about how meditation and mindfulness can help with depressive symptoms.

Stress reduction

Some meditation practices, including variations on mindfulness meditation, are partly aimed at reducing stress. In other words, these practices can help ease one of the primary symptoms of depression.

Techniques like mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) have been shown to be particularly effective at lowering stress levels during and after 8-week treatment programs.

Stress and depression can weaken your immune response. By reducing stress, mindfulness practices may help boost your immune system, making your body more able to fight off infection and keep you physically healthy.

Anxiety reduction

Research has demonstrated that mindfulness meditation practices like MBCT and MBSR can also ease anxiety, another major symptom of depression.

Mindfulness meditation is partly intended to help you observe thought patterns and bodily sensations triggered by anxiety. It’s believed that gaining awareness and acceptance can help reduce feelings of self-judgment and rumination on negative thoughts. This may help lower anxiety.

In fact, a 2022 study found that an 8-week MBSR program was as effective as escitalopram (Lexapro) at reducing symptoms of anxiety. It also reported that MBSR had very few side effects.

Emotional regulation

Depression can make it hard to address and process emotions.

Meditation practices help teach emotional regulation strategies, arming you with techniques you can try when you’re feeling low.

Loving-kindness meditation, or metta meditation, for instance, empowers you to build compassion toward yourself and others.

A 2014 systematic review reports that practicing loving-kindness meditation may ease depression and increase mindfulness, compassion, self-compassion, and positive emotions.

By fostering these feelings, meditation could help you rewire your thought patterns so that more constructive patterns replace negative ones.

This can help you develop healthier strategies for dealing with negative thoughts and emotions. Simultaneously, you’ll grow your sense of self and expand the compassion and love you feel for yourself and others.

Improved relationships with others

Depression can impact the way you interact with the people in your life, leading to symptoms like low self-esteem, isolation, and loneliness.

Meditation and mindfulness techniques may help improve your relationships with others.

A small 2015 study followed college students who participated in loving-kindness group meditation sessions over a 4-week period. It found that the practice improved positive emotions, interpersonal relationships, and understanding of others.

Another small 2019 study examined a 2-week mindfulness training program through a smartphone app. The study reports that mindfulness training reduced loneliness and increased social contact for study participants.

Improved physical well-being

Depression doesn’t only affect your mental health, it can also take a toll on your physical health. For some people, depression may lead to sleep problems, high blood pressure, and problems with heart health, among other issues.

Some research indicates that meditation can help. Keep in mind, however, that more research is needed in each area of study to confirm these findings.

2018 systematic review and meta-analysis reported that mindfulness meditation practices may improve sleep quality in people with sleep disturbances like insomnia, which is both a risk factor and a symptom of depression.

2017 meta-analysis found that transcendental meditation may help lower blood pressure. A more recent 2020 systematic review and meta-analysis reported that mindfulness-based interventions, including MBSR or focused meditation using breathing awareness, may also help lower blood pressure.

Finally, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), meditation may help lower the risk of heart disease and boost heart health. In fact, the AHA endorses meditation as a complementary treatment to other heart health strategies.

The takeaway

Meditation and mindfulness practices have lots of potential benefits, including helping you manage depression and other psychological symptoms like stress, anxiety, and loneliness.

While meditation shouldn’t replace your existing treatment methods, it can supplement your depression care.

Adding meditation practices to your treatment regimen will likely give you new strategies to ease symptoms of depression and prevent relapse.

Medically reviewed on May 29, 2024

20 Sources

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About the author

Clara Siegmund

Clara Siegmund is a writer, editor, and translator (French to English) from Brooklyn, New York. She has a BA in English and French Studies from Wesleyan University and an MA in Translation from the Sorbonne. She frequently writes for women’s health publications. She is passionate about literature, reproductive justice, and using language to make information accessible.

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