How Can Mindfulness Meditation Help with Depression in 2020?

close up of a person meditating cross-legged

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How Can Mindfulness Meditation Help with Depression?

Do you want to know how mindfulness meditation can help with depression? What if I tell you that mindfulness meditation, in many cases, can be an effective way to deal with your depression? In some cases, it even becomes the final solution. Find it hard to believe? Then, please, read on.

Mindfulness meditation strengthens your “AWARENESS MUSCLE”. The stronger your awareness muscle becomes, the weaker the effects the depression will have on you until finally, the depression loses its grip and you’re free. That’s how the process goes.

Mindfulness meditation strengthens your “awareness muscle”.

Ok, that may sound like an over-simplification. So, in this article, I’ll explain to you, step by step, how to practice the mindfulness meditation technique to overcome depression in the hope it will bring you a positive result.

I’m not going to dwell too deep or talk at length about definitions because this is NOT a medical journal. Those are easily googled if you want to.

If you want to learn how to do mindfulness meditation in simple two steps, I’ve written a practical guide. You can grab it for free HERE.

Also, since meditation is deeply rooted in ancient traditions especially Hinduism and Buddhism, I’m going to avoid any “technical” terms and any references from the scripture. Instead, I’m going to use layman terms because I really want the technique I share in this post can be as simple as possible to understand and as practical as possible to follow, for anyone.

Please note, we’re not giving you any medical advice. If you’re on medication, please always consult your doctors or other qualified healthcare providers for any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Please read our disclaimer.

The reason I wrote this article is to share with you the technique I know works. There are people I know personally that have success with this technique. I have my own success story with stress and anxiety. Many other people have success with panic attacks as well. I hope the technique will also work for you. In fact, there are many success stories online you can google if you want to. But, practical guides on how mindfulness meditation can help with depression are rarely found. That’s the purpose of this article.

I will keep this post as short as possible and to the point.

Before we start, I need to tell you that in order to properly execute the technique, first, there are a couple of things you need to understand.

Let’s start.

Use the table of contents below to help you navigate this post. To go directly to the application of the technique, jump directly to the “How to…” section.

What is depression?

How Can Mindfulness Meditation Help with Depression?
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

American Psychiatric Association defines depression as a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. It causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.

The most important is… It’s TREATABLE!

What are the symptoms of depression?

Depression symptoms vary in degree from mild to severe.  They can include:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Feeling tired or having lack of energy almost every day
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting, overeat or stop feeling hungry
  • Trouble sleeping like insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, remembering, concentrating or making decisions
  • Risk of heart attack
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Other depression symptoms that can be categorized as physical are:

  • Headaches
  • Cramps
  • Joint pain
  • Back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Digestive problems 
  • Diarrhea
  • constipation
  • Sleep trouble
  • Appetite changes
  • Loss of libido
  • Weakened immune system

As you can see, all of the above symptoms are indeed very common. In fact, almost everyone may have those symptoms at one point or another. If you experience one or two of the symptoms above, it cannot be concluded that you get depression. Not yet.

For example, sadness, in general like the death of a loved one, career loss, or relationship breakup is indeed difficult experiences for anyone to endure. For this reason, it is normal for feelings of sadness or grief to develop in response to such situations.

While those experiences might be described as being “depressed”, according to the DSM-5, a manual doctors use to diagnose mental disorders, you need to have five or more of those symptoms for at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression.

People who are frequently experience panic attacks or diagnosed with panic disorder are at high risk of depression.

Also, people who suffer from anxiety disorders typically have a tendency towards depression.

Ok, I’m not going to dwell too deep in this aspect. You can google it online if you want or feel the need to. Because that’s not the purpose of this article.

The reason I put together the list of symptoms above is to give you a better understanding of the nature of depression which will be important in the application of the meditation technique that I’ll explain later in this post.

It is NOT meant to scare you or make you more depressed.

On the contrary, I mean to motivate you and give you all the more reason to learn and practice the technique that I’ll share with you later in this article.

What are the causes of depression?

A sitting sad girl in black
Image by Qu Ji from Pixabay

Have you ever wondered, what causes depression? If tragedies, bad or traumatic experiences happen to everyone at one point or another in their lives, why some people get depressed while others don’t? 

The fact of the matter is, depression can affect anyone, even the one who appears to live relatively ideal lives. If you go to YouTube, you can find a load of heartbreaking confession videos about people sharing their past traumas or tragedies that may have caused them to live with depression for years.

Depression is an extremely complex health condition. No one knows exactly what causes it. 

Several factors can play a role in depression:

  • Biochemistry: Differences in certain chemicals in the brain may contribute to symptoms of depression.
  • Genetics: Depression can run in families. For example, if one identical twin has depression, the other has a 70 percent chance of having the illness sometime in life. Nevertheless, depression is a complex trait that may be contributed by several different genes, each plays a certain role rather than by a single one.
  • Personality: People with low self-esteem, who are easily get stressed, or who are generally pessimistic appear to be more prone to depression.
  • Environmental factors: Continuous exposure to violence, neglect, abuse or poverty may make some people more vulnerable to depression.

A number of other factors that may increase the chance of depression:

  • Past abuse: Physical, emotional and sexual abuse in the past can increase the vulnerability of clinical depression in the future.
  • Certain medications: Some drugs can increase the risk of depression.
  • Conflict. Personal conflicts with friends or relatives or disputes at work can trigger depression.
  • Death or a loss: Sadness and grief as the results of such events may increase the risk of depression.
  • Major events: Even good events such as starting a new job, graduating, or getting married can lead to depression. So can bad events such as moving, losing a job or income, getting divorced, or retiring. However, depression is never just a “normal” response to stressful life events.
  • Personal problems: Relationship difficulties, being cast out of a social group or of a family, social isolation can contribute to the risk of depression.
  • Substance abuse: Drugs and alcohol may give a quick buzz and temporarily make you feel better but eventually, they also may provoke depression.

The bottom line is, depression is a complex condition. Up until now, scientists and other medical experts cannot single out one factor that causes it. It may be contributed by several different factors, each plays a certain role in its development.

I put this section together to give you a more comprehensive understanding of the nature of depression.

Understanding the causes is important because it will increase your overall awareness. Maybe you can avoid some of the causes.  For instance, if alcohol and drugs are the problems, you can consciously make the decision to stop using them. If social isolation is the problem, try to reach out to friends and family. If you don’t have a solid support system, take the steps to build one. Ask your doctor or therapist about support groups and other community resources.

Ok, maybe the situation is not as easy as it sounds but, you get the point.

Still and all, understanding also can give you more motivation to cope with your depression.

Now, to motivate you even further, let’s take a look at how depression can affect your life in the next section.

How depression can affect your life

Now you know what the symptoms of depression are, or at least a couple and most common of them. If you don’t treat your depression effectively, it can expand and affect your everyday life and ruin your happiness.

  • It can increase the chance of risky behaviors such as drugs and alcohol abuse. 
  • Depressed mood and social withdrawal can ruin your personal relationships and cause many troubles at work.
  • If you continuously have trouble sleeping and can’t get proper rest:
    • Your concentration will worsen. In turn, it will affect your work performance and your productivity negatively.
    • It can lead to accidents whether at work or on the street. 
    • You will make unnecessary mistakes.
  • Low physical energy and prolonged fatigue will make recovery from illnesses takes longer. As a result, it will further deteriorate your physical fitness and overall health.
  • Loss or weakening of sex drive can potentially ruin your relationship with your spouse.

And it will go on and on, so long if you don’t treat them effectively.

Now, remember the symptoms listed from the earlier section? 

It’s VERY important that you can recognize them AS EARLY AS possible. The main point here is to catch the “monsters” while they’re still small.

The point is to catch the “monsters” while they’re still small.

What is mindfulness meditation?

A young man meditating on the ground
Image by truthseeker08 from Pixabay

What is mindfulness meditation?

There are many kinds of meditation with as many myths and misconceptions surrounding them. So, please remember, from now on, when I say meditation, what I mean is mindfulness meditation, not any other kind.

There’re lots of definitions online about meditation you can google. But, to save you time and effort, I’ve searched around the net to do my research. I summed up all the definitions available for references. And, I’ve come up with my own definition that resonates with my understanding and my experience with my meditation practice.

In essence,

Meditation is a mental exercise

…where the practitioner uses a technique of mindfulness of the mind

…using a particular object, thought or activity…

…to train attention and awareness

continuously

…to achieve a mentally clear, emotionally calm and stable state of mind.

That’s it.

You see, by definition only, it’s already a CURE for your depression.

More importantly, meditation is a practice you can do yourself. It’s free. It won’t cost you ANYTHING other than little time that will benefit you a million fold in the long run.

If you want to learn easy-to-follow, two steps to mindfulness, I’ve written a practical guide. Get your copy HERE.

I bolded the key points: 

Meditation is a mental exercise, not a physical exercise although it may include physical activity as its object.

The technique being used is mindfulness of the mind so, meditation is mind work, not physical work.

The object of mindfulness can be a physical thing, sound, visual, thought or activity.

The object is what to be aware of or where you pay your attention to, continuously.

You don’t hate the object and you also don’t love it or cling to it.

Finally, mental clarity, calm emotion and a stable state of mind is the result of the right practice. 

You don’t try to be calm. You don’t try to be stable. You don’t try to clear your mind. Because that’s NOT meditation. You just try to pay attention to and be aware of the object continuously. That IS meditation.

Please note, I purposefully avoid the term focus, focusing, concentrate, concentrating and concentration because they often give the wrong notion. They’ll make you think that you need to focus or concentrate on an object until you get exhausted. 

In fact, if you’re focusing too much, you will be losing awareness and you’ll get tired easily. This way, you won’t be able to do it continuously. That’s NOT meditation.

The key point is CONTINUOUSLY. Continuously means without breaks, no interruptions in your awareness. But, you shouldn’t exert too much energy to maintain awareness. 

If you’re doing it right, you should be able to maintain awareness all day long, from the moment you wake up until the moment you fall asleep. 

So, If you feel you’re getting tired easily during your practice then you’re doing it wrong. You’re exerting too much energy. Maybe, you’re focusing too much. You can use this as an indicator. 

What about sitting like a statue as seen in many movies or photos?

That’s only one of the meditation postures. The other postures are standing, walking, lying-down and daily activity.

Usually, beginners are discouraged to do the lying-down posture because it will make them fall asleep easily.

That’s why sitting posture is preferred for beginners. It’s also often the posture of choice for achieving a deeper level of meditative states.

Having said that, a lot of people experience pains, aches, and other discomforts during longer sitting sessions. This is where proper preparation for sitting meditation comes in handy.

Mindfulness meditation is increasingly popular nowadays. This is partly due to the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn with his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. The technique can help you ground your thoughts in the present.

Check this study for some conclusions about its effectiveness in this regard. In this post, another study even found some evidence that mindfulness meditation alleviates pain, anxiety, and depression to a similar degree as antidepressant drug therapy.

If you want to learn it online, I highly recommend this course.

Now, let’s hear about the essence of meditation from a well-known meditation master:

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a famous author of best-selling books like 

You may want to check his other works.

He explained it very well and concisely:

The essence of meditation is awareness

I think it’s enough for the definition. Meditation is quite a broad topic that will require a separate dedicated post to talk about.

The question is: 
How can you use this meditation technique to overcome your depression? 

This is why you’re here, right? Let’s get to it.

How to apply the mindfulness meditation technique to overcome depression

Now, we’ve come to the part where I’ll share with you how mindfulness meditation can help with depression.

First, let me repeat what I’ve said at the beginning of this post about how the process works:

Mindfulness meditation strengthens your “AWARENESS MUSCLE”. The stronger your awareness muscle becomes, the weaker the effects the depression will have on you until finally, the depression loses its grip and you’re free. That’s how the process goes.

What’s the bottom line?

It’s your “awareness muscle” you need to strengthen. 

When your “awareness muscle” gets stronger, the hold the depression has on you will lose its grip. 

That’s the “MECHANISM” of mindfulness. Mark my words!

That’s why you need to practice mindfulness meditation.

Here’s the deal:

Practice the technique I’m going to show you, CONSISTENTLY, then prove to me that I’m wrong.

First step: breathing activity as the object

Find a comfortable place with minimum distractions. You will need to avoid any distractions for the next 5 minutes. 

Turn off or silence your phone and turn off your TV. 

For starter, you will practice for at least 5 minutes, twice daily. Once in the morning before any activities, or before going to work and once in the evening after work. 

You’ll do the sitting posture. You don’t have to sit in “lotus” posture if you don’t want to or if you feel it uncomfortable. You can use any chair. Sit with your back straight up in a relaxed and natural way. This is to avoid drowsiness and to help you maintain awareness.

I recommend you to close your eyes to avoid visual distractions, especially if you’re a beginner.

This is how you’ll do it…

You will use your breathing activity as the object of your meditation practice.

What is an object? A meditation object is something to be aware of or something you pay your attention to. You’ll understand what I mean in a moment. So, please, read on.

No need to regulate your breath intentionally or breathe in a certain way. Just breathe normally and naturally.

Pay attention to the process of breathing: The air moving in as you inhale, the air moving out as you exhale. Feel the flow of the air, in and out, at your nostrils. Feel that the air you’re exhaling is a bit warmer than the air you’re inhaling.

Or, alternatively, you can pay attention to your abdomen moving up and down as you breathe.

That’s what meditation objects are for. They’re where you pay your attention to, what to be aware of. They’re not something to get rid of or something you invite or cling to.

“Objects are things you pay your attention to, things to be aware of”

No need to try to pay attention to all aspects of the breathing process. That will be too much. Just try to pay attention to the most obvious ones or the easiest ones for you. That’ll be enough. You’ll naturally widen your awareness as you progress.

Always remember, and this is important, whenever you find your mind wandering away into thoughts, feelings or memories, just remind yourself to shift your attention back to your initial object, which is your breathing. Make this a habit. 

No need to feel guilty. No need to punish yourself. Why? Because a wandering mind is normal! This is important to understand. Guilty feelings easily shift your attention and weaken your awareness. Therefore, they won’t help with your practice.

Periodically, keep asking yourself, “What is happening right now?”. You’re paying attention to your breathing. This is key to maintain mindfulness.

That’s it. For now…

The key is, you need to practice it often and consistently. You may add 1 more session in the afternoon break.

“you need to do it often and consistently”

As you progress, you’ll be able to increase the duration from 5 minutes to 10 minutes, then 15 minutes. On occasions, you can practice for 30 minutes. That will be incredible!

This practice is meant to strengthen your “awareness muscle”. Awareness is a mental faculty like muscle strength is a physical faculty. You go to the gym to exercise to strengthen your physical muscles. As you progress, when your muscles get stronger, you can lift heavier weight. 

The same analogy applies. The more you practice the longer the duration you can maintain your attention to your breathing. In the process, you’re strengthening your awareness.

No targets. No goals. Targets and goals will only make you more stressed and depressed. Just do it. But, the key is, you need to do it often and consistently. And, you’ll need to commit to yourself that you’ll practice it at your set schedule.

You will keep using your breathing activity as your meditation object until you can maintain your awareness continuously for 5 minutes. As you progress, increase it to 10 minutes, 15 minutes and so on If you can maintain awareness of your breathing continuously for 30 minutes, you’re INCREDIBLE!

Second step: depression symptom as the object

A girl is meditating on a carpet
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Remember the symptoms of depression we’ve discussed earlier? There is a reason why I put much emphasis on the importance of recognizing them as early as possible.

Especially, the MENTAL ones.

Because AS SOON AS any of the symptoms, especially any of the mental ones, occur, you will position it as your meditation object. 

“As soon as” means IMMEDIATELY!

Remember the point: catch the monsters while they’re small?

Do you still remember what an object is? The thing to be aware of, where you pay your attention to, without judgment? You don’t try to get rid of it and you don’t try to cling to it. You don’t hate it and you don’t invite it.

But, at this point, there’s one thing to acknowledge:
If it happens that your awareness muscle is not yet strong enough, you’ll get drawn and lose your awareness. The object will be gone. No awareness means no objects. This is NOT meditation!

What does it mean?

It means: go back to the FIRST STEP, use breathing activity as the object.

That’s why patience is invaluable in practicing meditation. Keep using the breathing activity as the object of your practice to strengthen your awareness muscle. You’ll know when you’re ready. 

How?

When you know you can maintain awareness of your breathing continuously without wandering away for longer and longer duration.

Breathing is a natural activity that’s emotionally neutral which makes it an ideal object for initial practice. Depression, on the other hand, has an intense negative emotion attached to it which makes it a more difficult meditation object.

The first step is meant to build your base, your foundation of mindfulness.

So, don’t rush!

There’s no need to be discouraged. No need to judge or blame yourself. Simply go back to your breathing. It’s that simple.

If you keep practicing consistently, in time, you’ll notice when any of the depression symptoms occur, they’re not as powerful as before. They can no longer bring you to your knees. You won’t get drawn. 

They just become your meditation objects! 

Because you’re maintaining your awareness!

Which means you don’t try to get rid of them, you also don’t try to cling to them. You just keep paying attention to them, without judging. You will be able to watch them arise and fade away. 

The more you experience this arising and fading away cycle, the effects of your depression will get weaker and weaker and finally will fade away.

“The depression symptoms just become your meditation objects”

You’ll learn many things about yourself. Mark my words!

What is a depression in the “eye” of meditation? It is the object.

Remember what object is? It’s something to be aware of, where you pay your attention to, without judgments, without thinking.

When you position the object like this, it will lose its strength over time. You’ll become more detached to the object. You’ll notice that objects come and go. Finally, you will understand that the cycle of every object is rising and fading away.

You may ask: 
How long does it take for the object to lose its power? 
The answer is, it depends on the development of your “awareness muscle”. They’re negatively correlated. The stronger your awareness muscle, the weaker the “depression” object.

So, practice often and consistently!

“Depression is the object in the “eye” of meditation”

This simple technique has helped countless people overcoming their depression. You can find lots of relevant testimonials online, too many to be included in this post.

But, in case you need some proofs:

Wrap it up

Now, let’s make it simple. You don’t need to get too caught up with what meditation is. You just need to take advantage of the technique that works, to effectively overcome your depression. No need for too many technical terms. 

Let me give you a quick recap:

  • Use breathing activity as your initial object.
  • Try to pay attention to your breath continuously for at least 5 minutes. You can increase the duration as you progress.
  • Don’t exert too much energy when you’re practicing or you’ll tire yourself easily. Try to keep your mind and body relaxed.
  • Practice at least twice a day, once in the morning before work and once in the evening after work. You may add an afternoon session.
  • During practice, keep asking yourself: What is happening right now? This is to help you maintain awareness.
  • Whenever your mind wanders away, shift your attention back to your breathing. Make this a habit. No need to feel guilty, no need to judge yourself.
  • Keep practicing consistently to strengthen your “awareness muscle”.
  • You’ll know that you’re developing your “awareness muscle” as you can maintain awareness for longer and longer duration.
  • When any of depression symptoms occur, position the symptoms as your meditation object and keep paying attention to them. Watch them arise and fade away

This technique won’t cost you any money. You only need patience and perseverance to practice it.

And, you need to practice it often and consistently.

Often times, you’ll experience dwindling in motivation and interest. To combat all the hindrances, apply these effective hacks to your daily practice.

If you practice persistently, you’ll gain much-much more than just overcoming your depression. But, that’s a topic for another article.

Grab My FREE Ebook!

Mindfulness in Two Steps

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A Practical Guide to Mindfulness Meditation
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You can practice anywhere, anytime.

You don’t have to attend a meditation retreat if you don’t have the time. Although I highly recommend it because it indeed has its benefits. One of the main benefits is you’ll be provided with a conducive environment with minimum distractions for the duration of the retreat. As a result, progress usually comes faster. I attended several retreats myself.

As an alternative, you can take the online meditation course by Giovanni Dienstmann. He wrote a best-selling book “Practical Meditation” which is available in 7 languages. He is a very accomplished meditation teacher with 9,000+ hours of meditation practice under his belt. I really encourage you to take a look. Check it out here.

Read my review of the course here.

Please remember, it doesn’t mean you won’t experience sadness or normal feeling of “depressed” ever again. It just means that you can cope with it properly, keep your balance, maintain awareness and react in a more healthy way. That way, you’re no longer at their mercy. 

If you adopt this technique and practice it continuously, you WILL live a more balanced, healthy and enjoyable life. 

This is how mindfulness meditation can help with depression. 

It’s simple wisdom.

How is your practice? Do you have more simple and more effective ways to deal with depression you want to share? Let me know in the comments…

Further readings


Featured Image by EnergieDeVie from Pixabay

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