Meditation is one of the most critical skills I learned (and am still learning) to overcome my long-term struggle to relieve depression. From 14 to 24 it was an ongoing battle with cycles of marijuana and alcohol abuse thrown in. Despite what some of my fellow stoners out there might believe, yes marijuana abuse is a real thing. It may not be physically addictive, but if you are using it for the wrong reasons, like anything, it can be psychologically addictive. In saying that, I am a big advocate for its legalization and medicinal uses as used correctly it can prove very beneficial. However, that is a story for another day, back to meditation.
Meditation comes in many forms and my first introductions to it can in the form of positive affirmation repetition and yoga. Traditionally, yoga was used before seated meditation as a way to remove excess energy and prepare the body for seated stillness.
Positive affirmations are a bit more of a new-age buzz term, but without realizing it at the time, I made “I am loved” and “I am skilled” my mantras when I first decided I had had enough of this depression business.
What is a mantra?
Mantras have a wide diversity. The first explanation of a mantra you get on google dictionary states a mantra is “… a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation.” This could be a hymn, statement or slogan repeated frequently. Traditionally Hindu and Buddhist mantras don’t really have a meaning. Like the classic “om.”
Mantras give us a focus while meditating. A distraction from your thoughts if you will. Instead of using your breath as a centering point you use a mantra and every time you get distracted you gently guide yourself back to your mantra.
A personal mantra is an affirmation of your choice that helps motivate and inspire you. Positive affirmations are crucial to changing your mindset and altering your thought patterns from negative to positive.
Related: The Science of Meditation and Yoga: An Easy Guide
Power of personal mantras:
If you suffer from depression using positive affirmations such as “I am beautiful” may feel fake or uncomfortable to say but in my experience, those that you have the most aversion to are the ones you need to work on the most. With practice, you will incorporate these into your psyche, and they will feel natural.
“I am enough” is a good one to start with. As Marisa Peers, the famed psychologist explains, our brains are both complex and very simple. They believe what we tell them to believe. The psyche and stories we tell it to believe are very powerful. For example, someone can literally make themselves sick by telling themselves they are sick over and over. Similarly, with the placebo effect, you think you are taking medicine to make you well and you can literally make yourself well without any drugs.
What is meditation?
Meditation sounds intimidating for some people. It can be misunderstood as a religious or alternative “hippie” practice. For some reason, it is also often considered a skill you either have or don’t have. People often try it once, struggle and get distracted then say “Oh I am not good at this, it is not for me.” While it is true that meditation often has origins and links to various religions it is false to think that meditation doesn’t benefit everyone.
Meditation is merely taking time to find stillness and clarity of the mind. Sitting in silence to breathe and watch a sunset is a form of meditation. Going for a walk and taking the time to get out of your head and notice your breath, your surroundings, the scents in the air is a form of meditation.
- It helps bring mental clarity
- Enhances emotional awareness
- Trains focused-attention
- Brings more attention to our surroundings.
I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t benefit from more of all of the above. Meditation is for everyone, happy or sad. Moreover, it only takes 10 minutes a day to start seeing the benefits. It is also free to learn and practice. So no excuses.
Related: 5 Meditation Podcasts For Busy People
How does meditation help relieve depression?
If you suffer from depression you are most in need of mental clarity, more emotional awareness, you are likely unfocused and are unaware of the details of your surroundings. Or should I say unfocused and highly aware of the wrong things in your surroundings.
One study found that depressed people were far more unlikely to find $20 in the street than happy people. A little optimism goes a long way. The good news is that you can experience happiness without also knowing sadness, so you are currently in a prime position to truly appreciate the joy in your life when you find it. Another word of advice on happiness; it is not a continual state of being. So when it goes away you’re not broken, there is nothing wrong with you. It will come back. Enjoy the ride.
Meditation actually changes our brain structure, and countless studies have found it helps relieve depression.
How to use meditation to relieve depression?
Step 1) Get a personal mantra.
You can make this up yourself or borrow one from the countless sources online. Check out our Daily Affirmations Pinterest board for an extensive collection. You can choose several if you like. One of my favorites is “I can and I will”, “I am loved” and “I am beautiful.”Simple but effective. If you prefer something more, you can write a little poem and learn it off by heart.
Step 2) Say your personal mantra at least 3x in a row 3x a day.
Repetition is key here.
Step 3) Set aside at least 10 minutes a day to meditate.
You can either use your personal mantra as a focus here or use your breath. Don’t get too caught up in sitting cross-legged on a pillow with incense blowing. While this is nice, it is not always practical, and as someone who suffers back problems, I can’t get my focus away from the pain. A comfortable chair with a straight back or lying down before bed is just as good. The main point is to get comfortable and remove external distractions where possible.
Step 4) Be kind to yourself and be patient.
Despite what pharmaceutical companies might tell you there is no quick fix to relieve depression. While I believe anti-depressants can be beneficial in the short-term for many people to help them get through a rough place they are not a be-all-end-all. To overcome your depression, you need to look at and address the root cause.
- Are your hormones balanced?
- Are you eating a healthy diet?
- How much do you move your body?
- Is there a traumatic experience you need to address?
- What are your thought patterns like?
Like everything, nothing is ever as simple as having one answer and one solution. Anti-depressants are one tool in our mental-health toolbox you can use. To relieve depression you need to develop the tools to keep in your toolbox fora rainy day. Meditation is an essential tool to have handy nearby.
Step 5) Remember; while learning the art of meditation keep in mind that it is a practice.
It’s like a muscle. The more you work it, the better you will get and some days will be easier than others. Don’t stress it’s all good my friend.
Step 6) Keep it up and repeat.
Change your mantra or add new ones as you need to. Meditate longer every day as your skill improves. Keep being kind and patient with yourself. Keep working on improving yourself as life becomes a little clearer.
At first, your goal might be to simply:
- Get out of bed
- Get your laundry done.
Later it might be to:
- Write a book
- Ask for that job promotion you want
- Study something new
- Travel the world.
I hope this helps you in your happiness quest to relieve depression. Please comment below with your chosen affirmation and any other ways you have found help to relieve depression. When we share our healing story, we help other people heal as well. You have more power to make a difference than you think.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or really struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help. You are not alone. If there is anything I have learned in the last few weeks living in a community in Guatemala, it is that at the end of the day we have a tendency to feel alone, but we are all going through the same shit on some level or another.
P.S. It is bugging me that I can’t find a link for the $20 note finding depression study mentioned above. If anyone knows the one I mean please comment below. I read it quite a while ago.