Can Mindfulness Meditation Relieve Depression Symptoms?

depression symptoms

Do you struggle with depression symptoms? Dr. Jane Rubin suggests that mindfulness meditation may relieve your depression symptoms by helping you recognize and change unhelpful thought patterns.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a meditation practice that trains us to notice the thoughts and feelings that rise to the surface of our consciousness. Then, let them go without becoming preoccupied with them. Some mindfulness practices teach you to focus on your breath, to notice when your focus strays, and to gently bring your focus back to the breath. As you become more skilled at doing this, you can more easily notice disturbing thoughts or feelings to arise and then allow them to pass.

For example, you might find yourself having negative thoughts about your performance at work or a fight you had with your partner. If you allow yourself to dwell on these thoughts, they can easily feel very real to you and you can begin to spiral down into depression. However, if you can train yourself to recognize these thoughts as thoughts that come and go like any others, you may be able to get some emotional distance from them and they may not affect you so strongly.

A saying among some mindfulness practitioners is, “What you resist persists”. In other words, the more we try not to experience uncomfortable feelings, the stronger those feelings often become. This is especially true with the sadness and feelings of hopelessness that accompany depression. As a result, people who are depressed often resist feeling these feelings by trying to distract themselves or talk themselves out of them. Mindfulness meditation asks us, instead, to simply let the feelings be. When we do, we notice that they don’t persist. Like any other feelings, they stay for a time and then they pass.

How Can Mindfulness Help With Some Common Symptoms of Depression?

Three of the most common symptoms of depression are a diminished sense of enthusiasm for life’ a sense of hopelessness and a feeling of worthlessness. Here are some ways mindfulness can address each of these symptoms.

1. When you’re depressed, you experience diminished enthusiasm for life.

You may feel flat or empty and find it hard to take an interest in anything. It’s natural to try to resist these feelings and to try to force yourself to feel more positive. However, these efforts often backfire. When they do, you may criticize yourself for failing to do enough to get yourself out of your depression. This self-criticism only makes you feel worse.  Mindfulness relieves you of the pressure of having to do something to make yourself feel better.  Instead of resisting negative feelings, you allow yourself to feel them. When you don’t actively resist them, they become more tolerable. And, as they loosen their hold on you, they pass.

2. Another common symptom of depression is hopelessness.

When you’re depressed, you feel like you always have been depressed and you always will be depressed. You forget that you have ever felt better and you feel that you never will. The practice of mindfulness meditation shows us that our thoughts and feelings are constantly changing and that no one set of thoughts and feelings permanently defines who we are. It allows us to be more comfortable with change and more flexible in our approach to life. This keeps us from feeling so stuck or that we’re repeating the same patterns over and over again.

3. A third common symptom of depression is a feeling of worthlessness.

People who are depressed often blame themselves for their depression. They think that, if they just did something differently or were just better people, they wouldn’t feel so bad.

As with the other symptoms of depression, mindfulness allows us to achieve some distance from our self-critical thoughts, helping us to recognize that they’re just thoughts. The fact that we’re having them doesn’t make them true. And, while actively trying to change them only causes them to persist, observing them without judgment releases their grip on our minds.

It Sounds Like Mindfulness Can Be Your Own Form of Therapy?

Mindfulness can be a very useful tool for addressing the symptoms of depression. I always think it’s worth trying it to see if it works for you. It’s something you can do any time and it can help you approach the difficulties in your life with greater flexibility and compassion. There are many books, classes and even smartphone apps that can teach you the practice, and show you how to incorporate it into your life.

However, in my experience, mindfulness meditation alone is usually not enough to successfully treat depression. Psychotherapy addresses aspects of depression that mindfulness does not. In my upcoming posts in this series, I’ll talk more about what depression is, why it happens and how a relationship with a therapist can help you to overcome your depression symptoms.

Click here to learn more about depression treatment with Dr. Jane Rubin, Ph.D, Licensed Clinical Psychologist.

“Jane Rubin, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist in Berkeley, California. She works with individuals in Berkeley, Oakland, the East Bay and the greater San Francisco Bay who are who are struggling with depression and anxiety. She also specializes in working with people who are trying to find meaning and direction in their lives.”