What to Know About Meditation and Depression

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on May 02, 2023
4 min read

Depression is a mental health condition that presents many symptoms. If you have depression, some of your symptoms could be:

  • A low mood you can’t seem to shake off
  • Loneliness
  • Fatigue
  • Wanting to be alone
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Sadness
  • Sleep problems
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Changes in appetite
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Trouble concentrating

If you have these signs for more than two weeks, you might have a depression disorder. Meditation can help you manage these symptoms if you know how to do it. If you make it a regular practice, it can help you reduce stress and anxiety, which can cause depression.

How does the brain react to stress? The main triggers of depression are stress and anxiety. Meditation helps alter those feelings and thoughts by training your brain to focus on one thing. When negative thoughts come knocking, the brain returns to that focus point, allowing the negative emotions and physical sensations to pass.

It works on specific regions of the brain linked with depression. For example, the area concerned with the self tends to go into overdrive when you're stressed. This is known as the prefrontal cortex that creates information about you.

Another brain region that depression affects is the amygdala — also known as the "fear region." This region tells you whether to fight or flee when faced with danger. It makes the adrenal glands produce cortisol, a stress hormone that responds to fear and threat. These two regions work hard against each other causing depression. The “me center” works to react to stress and the fear center responds to a danger that is only in your mind.

Meditation may not make all the symptoms of depression disappear but will help you manage them. It works by changing how your brain reacts to stress and anxiety. When you meditate, you can override the triggers stimulated from the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. This explains why your stress levels fall.

Meditation protects the hippocampus. The hippocampus is for memory and learning. When you meditate for 30 minutes daily for eight weeks, you help your brain increase the grey matter in this area. Research shows people with recurrent depressive episodes have a smaller hippocampus.

It helps to change your thinking. Depression involves a lot of negative thinking and dark thoughts. It's common to feel mad at life and yourself. Meditation doesn’t make you push aside your stress or block out negative thoughts. Instead, it provides a way for you to notice those thoughts and feelings. This may sound counterintuitive since it involves reinforcing your awareness of those thoughts and feelings. However, the practice helps to create mindfulness and acceptance of them.

It prepares the mind for stressful situations. If a visit to your doctor makes you nervous or stressed, meditating a few minutes beforehand can calm you down. It shifts the mind’s focus from the stress response into a state of calmness. The practice allows you to refrain from acting on those thoughts and feelings if you don't want to. Instead, you recognize and appreciate that although they affect you, they're not you. Gently let them go as you meditate, disrupting the negative cycles of stress and depression.

Some meditation types help manage depression. Remember to continue with your medications and other treatments as you continue with meditation. Use it as part of your conventional medical care, and if possible, under your doctor’s supervision.

  • Loving-kindness meditation. Focuses on creating a loving and kind environment for yourself. It can help remove feelings of doubt and self-criticism.
  • Mindfulness meditation. Some people consider this the most potent form of meditation. Most other forms of meditation come from this type. It’s about being aware of the present moment and feeling it to the fullest.
  • Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. This is a branch of mindfulness meditation. It blends with cognitive behavioral therapy for effective results and focuses on changing damaging behavior patterns and thoughts.
  • Yoga. This is a meditative practice that involves physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation.
  • Visualization. When you focus on pleasant images, your brain becomes calm. It changes how you remember negative memories. You end up with happy thoughts.
  • Chanting. This activates parts of your brain involved with emotional control and mood regulation.
  • Walking meditation. This helps you to mentally and physically stay healthy and improve your flexibility.

You can overcome the negative feelings and emotions that come with depression through meditation. The practice is about focusing your mind on one thing and helping it relax. Choose the meditation approach that works best for you and make it a routine. You'll notice the symptoms going down or becoming more manageable.