If you have ever struggled with depression you are not alone. About 350 million people in the world battle symptoms such as a lack of energy; excessive or too little sleep; problems with eating, thinking, concentrating or making decisions; suicidal thoughts; and feelings of worthlessness or guilt. When your energy is gone and these symptoms arrive, depression can feel overwhelming.
According to the World Health Organization, depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide, and antidepressants have been the typical go-to choice for maintenance. Although there are many effective forms of psychotherapy and medications for depression, nearly 80 percent of those who have recovered eventually relapse without ongoing treatment. This means that for most people depression is a chronic concern. It can be held at bay for a while, but eventually it comes back. The good news is that an antidepressant does well to alleviate the symptoms. The bad news is that these same antidepressants often have unwanted side effects: nausea, vomiting, insomnia, sleepiness, increased anxiety, diarrhea, lack of libido, headaches, and fluctuation in weight are just some of the reactions. These and other concerns are the main reason people stop taking the medicine—and consequently, the main reason for relapse.
Having the blues on occasion doesn’t mean you are clinically depressed, but when the symptoms last for two weeks or more it meets the criteria for a major depression. Researchers are now exploring alternatives to antidepressant medicines with the goal of giving people tools to prevent relapse. One of the more promising areas for effectively treating depression focuses on the ancient practice of meditation.
Long known for its physical and mental benefits, meditation has become commonplace in the Western world over the last 50 years. Researchers have found that Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)—a blend of an ancient Buddhist meditation practice and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)—is just as effective as medication at preventing depression relapse.
MBCT was developed to help people initiate a constructive response from an awareness of their depressive thoughts and feelings. The goal is to recognize, respond, and reverse a potential downward spiral of depression.
In one study of known depressives, researchers gradually took half the group off medication and provided MBCT through eight group therapy sessions along with daily homework assignments. The other half stayed on their medication as prescribed. Two years later the relapse rates for both groups were essentially the same: 44 percent of the MBCT group relapsed compared with 47 percent of those who continued to take their medication. The meditation worked just as well as antidepressants.
This new finding adds to the ever-growing list of benefits for those who meditate. Some of the known advantages include lowering blood pressure, improving mood, strengthening the immune system, increasing energy, boosting creativity, and reducing the risk of panic attacks, migraines, ulcers, insomnia, muscle soreness, and joint pain.
If you want to start experimenting with meditation there are several ways to learn more about it. First, you can check out a local yoga studio or meditation class if you want a group experience and a trainer to walk you through the steps. There are hundreds of types of meditation, and part of the journey is to experiment to see which ones fit you best.
Second, you can go on the web and find thousands of sites that give instruction and guidance. Just search “guided meditations” and try a few during your week. You can return to the ones you find interesting.
Finally, there are apps (of course). Look for ones with built-in timers for use with any meditation you are experimenting with—as well as guided meditations and a place to journal afterward.
How to get started? I recommend that you begin with something under 10 minutes a day and try building it into your daily routine. For the time invested and the potential benefits, you couldn’t ask for anything more.