Meditation for Anxiety and Depression
Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.
The focus of meditation is to train the brain to stay in the moment. To do this, practitioners are taught to let go of thoughts of the past as well as anxieties about the future.
Studies have examined the effectiveness of meditation for managing a whole range of medical conditions — from breast cancer, irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia to depression.
With diseases like breast cancer, meditation is not used as a treatment for the disease. It’s supportive care designed to help a person deal with the stress, anxiety and depression that comes with cancer.
If you regularly practice meditation, mental health problems and counseling and therapy may never be an issue for you. Research into depression and anxiety treatment has consistently shown that meditation can improve both mental health as well as physical well being. At my practice, I frequently recommend meditation to my clients.
Meditation for Depression
For thousands of years, meditation has been used in Eastern religious and spiritual traditions as a method of uniting the spirit and the mind. Through the years, medicine men and tribal doctors have used the healing benefits of meditation. In more modern times, meditation has become a popular way to relieve the stress from a fast-paced world as well as helping to improve both mental and physical health.
It is now well known that physical exercise can alter hormone levels within the body and have a positive effect on our moods, however more recent research has demonstrated that meditation works in a related manner and offers similar benefits. Despite the obvious metabolic differences between running and meditation, similar positive mood changes occur after both of these activities.
Spontaneous thoughts are often cited as a symptom of depression. For this reason, scientists have investigated ways in which these thoughts can be controlled without the use of drugs. Meditation and prayer can help prevent depression by reducing intrusive thoughts. In one study, 20 men and women were monitored after prayer, meditation, and carrying out a memory task. The results showed that there was a significant reduction in thought arousal during both the memory task and the reciting of prayer after meditation.
Anxiety and Meditation
Meditation has long been used to help relax, focus and attenuate anxiety by reducing arousal state. A study on anxiety treatment at the University of Massachusetts Medical School revealed that 22 medical patients with anxiety disorders showed clinically and statistically significant improvements in symptoms of anxiety and panic following an 8-week stress reduction intervention based on mindfulness meditation. Three years later, a follow-up study learned that the same subjects still had reduced anxiety and concluded that mindfulness meditation can have long-term benefits in anxiety treatment.
A large review study looked at 60 studies using meditation of the treatment of anxiety disorders and concluded that meditation therapy was an effective method for treating anxiety disorders.
Techniques taught during the meditation class included visualizations to help shift attention away from thoughts that cause anxiety and depression.
One popular technique is called a body scan. To do this, you lie back on a mat and the teacher has you check in with each part of your body
You relax all the tension in your jaws, then your neck, your shoulders, and so on, down the body. This technique is a lot like relation training. It’s useful and practical because you can practice in the privacy of your home.
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Toneatto T, Ngyuen L. Does mindfulness meditation improve anxiety and mood symptoms? A review of the controlled research. Can J Psychiatry. 2007;52(4):260–266.
Zautra AJ, Davis MC, Reich JW, et al. Comparison of cognitive behavioral and mindfulness meditation interventions on adaptation to rheumatoid arthritis for patients with and without history of recurrent depression. J Consult Clin Psychol. 2008;76:408–421.
About the Author
Randi Fredricks, Ph.D. is a practicing therapist, researcher and author specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, addiction, eating disorders, and related disorders. Dr. Fredricks is a best-selling author of numerous books on complementary and alternative treatments for mental health inclusing Complementary and Alternative Treatments for Depression. For more information on Dr. Fredricks work, visit her practice website San Jose Counseling and Psychotherapy.