“Meditation cured my depression”, “Mindfulness meditation for anxiety will help you!”, “Feel the zen!”.
I heard those phrases too many times, but can meditation help with anxiety and depression? Can it really?
let me be frank with you – I never bought into the hype of “spirituality” and have always considered myself to be a naturalist.
For those of you that don’t know – in philosophy, naturalism is a type of worldview that basically says “unless science can prove it, it’s not a thing”.
Sounds simple, right? I view psychology as a form of biology or chemistry to that extent – after all, everything that happens inside our heads is a part of “nature” thus it can be explained by natural means. Pretty simple stuff there.
Keep in mind, this isn’t about my viewpoints, some of which might anger you, but rather about me being a bit of a skeptic when it comes to this sort of stuff.
Case in point, when I heard how Meditation might help my “spirit” and what not I grew very skeptic.
I recall that one of my teachers told me about how it opens your inner energies or something along those lines – I haven’t really bothered listening, and the fact that I had a short attention span didn’t help at all.
The truth is that until I see research to back up anything I am told – I don’t believe it, with few exceptions.
If someone I not only trust but hold in high regard, told me “Vlad, try this, it will work!” then I would try “this” for sure!
No one told me something like that about meditation. Ever.
The people I know and hold in high regard are some of the bluntest and realistic people I have ever met in my life, which is why it stands to reason that they didn’t tell me anything about meditation.
One day I looked over a few sites and found this annoying yoga site. It was annoying because it didn’t ‘teach’ you anything, the person in charge wasn’t a “teacher”, she was a “preacher” of sorts – going over the same stuff over and over again.
I was about to leave when I noticed how she had this “course” for yoga and meditation up and ready, the price tag was absurd, to say the least, and judging by the fancy design of her website she was making money, maybe not much but enough to hire a designer without any fuss.
That actually pissed me off, more than it should have, so I went to her “contact me :D” form to rant at her angrily. I decided to put in a bit of research before sending her my angry rebuttal.
Thing is, although I found a lot of bad stuff about yoga (Most of it had nothing to do with it being helpful or not mind you), I found far less bad things about meditation.
It made me think that my argument was weak so I dropped the issue altogether.
I did look a bit more into meditation, but I thought it would be weird to just sit there and “meditate”, so I didn’t.
Then during my time in the military I grew desperate enough to try, and it had some effect, more than I expected it to have, but it didn’t help me – it actually made me feel worse!
My questions were “how” and “why”, yet I didn’t have the answers.
Now I do.
So in this post, I’m going to review “Meditation”, both good and bad. There is some good, but like any other solution in life – it isn’t for anyone. In fact, meditation can and will make you feel worse under the right circumstances.
It’s up to you to determine whether “meditate to relieve stress” is right for you.
With all being said and done, let’s jump right in!
Anxiety and depression break your mind, meditation makes it stronger
In a research conducted in 2003, this was shown best.
During one part of the research they gave the participants (who all suffer from depression) antidepressants (Drugs, for the sake of science!) for some days, and for others, they didn’t, all the while measuring the hippocampal gray matter in their brains.
results showed that while the participants didn’t receive any antidepressants the hippocampal volume of their brains became smaller faster than when they did receive antidepressants.
The study was concluded with a question mark (due to some other reasons) and another study had to be conducted, but what does it actually mean?
The hippocampus is the part of your brain responsible for you memory and orientation.
When someone suffers from anxiety or depression this area gets damaged over time.
Here’s the thing though – the effect grows over time!
If this month you lost 5% of your hippocampus volume (kind of extreme) then it means that next month you aren’t going to lose another 5%. No, this time it’s actually going to be 7%!
The thing is, though, meditation actually makes that part of your brain larger!
And that’s not all – science shows that there’s a direct correlation between how long you meditate and how large you hippocampi are.
Simply put, meditation negates some of the effects of anxiety and depression directly.
Meditation manipulates your brainwave patterns the same way therapy does
Here’s the deal: Your brain is composed of many brain cells called neurons, all of those cells use electricity to communicate.
All that electricity from all of these sources creates a much larger “wave”, and much like any other “wave” it can be measured.
Simply put, your brain wave patterns are thoughts and emotions – they are you.
To put it simply, when you are depressed or anxious your brain wave patterns are recorded at a certain frequency, yet meditation is shown to be able to alter that frequency.
A research from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) shows that meditation marked changes in brain wave patterns, normally ones that are associated with relaxation.
And what’s the opposite of relaxation? Bingo, anxiety.
It shuts down your “fight or flight mechanism”
Some of you may have read my article about social anxiety disorders, in which I discuss, among other things, the “fight or flight” mechanism in our brains.
That actually applies to all types of anxiety at least to some level.
Your amygdalae are the parts of your brain responsible for “negative emotions” and survival instincts is directly related to them.
As established in my article about social anxiety your anxiety is caused by the “fight of flight” reaction, which the amygdala also deals with.
In one research they wanted to check how meditation affected the amygdala, so they took some people and did a “before and after” kind of test on them: they did some tests, sent them to receive 8 weeks of “meditation training”, and then ran the same tests again.
Much to their shock, the amygdala of the participants shrunk down, making them smaller.
This means that the “fight or flight” mechanism in their brains was much less effective after all of that meditation training.
Some clear-cut facts, yes? There’s plenty of research to back up stuff that meditators were telling us for years.
Meditation is an act of relaxation, which is the opposite of anxiety and by extension depression too – you don’t need to be “zen” to realize that meditation is good for you.
“But if it’s such a great practice, why didn’t it work you?”
Meditation has many different effects on the brain that are excellent when it comes down to relieving stress (and by extension, anxiety, and depression) – it shuts down reactive areas of your brain, it regulates your brain patterns and increases your mental agility.
Yet no solution in the world is perfect, there simply isn’t such a thing.
And for all the good it does meditation can, and will, cause you some serious harm under the right circumstances.
On the flip side, though, it may be the best thing to have ever happened to you.
But right now I’m going to talk about some of the bad stuff since I already talked about the good it does.
Some effects of meditation are bad for people who suffer from anxiety and depression
That’s something no one is going to tell you, but take it as you will.
This is pretty much the biggest, most important, bad thing that might happen,
Some of the things that meditation does to your mind might be considered generally “good” for most people, yet completely horrible for someone who suffers from anxiety and depression.
What do I mean by that? Well, here are a few examples:
- Meditation increases awareness, for most people who might be a good thing, but for someone who suffers from anxiety and depression that might come off as becoming much more self-conscious, and that’s pretty much the last thing someone like that would want.
- Emotional upheavals are a sudden release of suppressed memories. Our brain also tends to suppress traumatic events. Need I say more?
- Meditation lowers the frequency of your brain waves. Decreased brain activity is a type of phenomenon associated with depression.
This may lead to a “relaxation-based anxiety”, as odd as the term may sound.
Honestly, the list goes on, but you get the idea – Meditation does a lot of good, but it might also do a lot of bad based on your circumstances.
If you have a severe case of anxiety and depression I highly recommend that you don’t start with meditation as your solution.
You need someone who knows his stuff to guide you
Meditation is a practice that is thousands of years old. So naturally, there’s going to be a right way and a wrong way to do it.
And if you are doing it wrong…
Well, you are wasting your time is what I’m trying to say.
Things like duration and frequency become very relevant, individual factors like medication and sleep are also important for ideal results.
Here’s the deal: If you don’t have someone who knows his stuff to guide you, a professional I dare say, then you aren’t going to be getting the best results you could – or any results, really.
You might grow to rely on meditation, maybe more than you should
Meditation might help you, it might even “solve” all of your problems, but it might also create a new problem for you altogether.
You might start depending on it a little too much.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say “addicted”, but let’s face it – if you come to rely on a single thing to help you out, you might end up cracking when you can’t use it. it becomes a tool for you to feel better, not to solve your problem.
So lets say you got over you anxiety and depression through daily meditation sessions, but then you didn’t have the time to meditate for a week due to work or some other responsibilities – that might actually end up breaking you, you got so used to meditating that it became a habit to you, the type of habit you can’t really go without.
The notion of getting addicted to meditation might sound ridiculous, but it is possible.
Can meditation help with anxiety and depression?
I would have liked to come over here and “bust” the “myth” of meditation, that would have been very cool, and it would get me a lot of attention too.
But that would be lying, and I care too much for my reputation to do that.
The fact is, meditation is a very old and effective practice, and most people can definitely meditate to relieve stress, but if you suffer from anxiety and depression then you aren’t really “most people” in the first place.
When I started bothering with meditation it did some pretty bad stuff to my mind, and despite being reluctant I decided to give it another go – but it didn’t do anything for me that time around.
Maybe it’s because I didn’t have “someone who knows his stuff” to guide me, or maybe I just wasn’t in it enough.
I wouldn’t know.
I did get into meditation after my anxiety and depression got a little better, and it has been a blast ever since.
Either way, I think that you should give meditation a go – you aren’t going to break down if you try it once, after all.
Who knows, it might be just what you were looking for all this time, and this comes from someone who doesn’t buy into spirituality (much like you, possibly)
So here’s a question – Did you ever try meditating? Did it help you?
Make sure to answer in the comments below: I reply to every single one of them.