The feeling of sinking into depression is utterly horrible, as anyone who has experienced it will attest. That “low” feeling just keeps pushing it’s way into your mind, and the more you think about it and try to resist it, the harder it pushes back. It just becomes a viscious cycle where the harder you try to resist it, the worse it gets. When you have had it before and you can feel it coming on again, it is often even worse. Is there a way out of this cycle?
In short, yes there is a way out of this. Mindfulness meditation can offer you a free, portable, holistic path out of depression in fairly short time. It is precisely our tendency to try and resist and push away negative moods such as depression which tends to give it it’s power over us and make it worse. Mindfulness theory realizes this and takes a different approach.
By letting negative moods such as depression in and just observing them without judgement, mindfulness helps us to see them as something which will come and go like anything else, and the very act of doing this often makes depression go away of it’s own accord. Let’s look in more detail at mindfulness below.
The Downward Spiral of Depression
Depression can have many different causes, but in this article we seek not so much to address causes but more the thinking process which can serve to give depression its power over us and make it worse. In short, what we resist, persists and the understandable process of trying to mentally push depression away is often what causes depression to escalate.
We will embed an excellent video by mindfulness expert Mark Williams where he explains very well how the mind can work in a way that worsen depression and other negative moods. The mind can tend to lock thinking and mood together in a negative cycle, and also start speculating and going beyond the evidence, which can take us off on mental tangents and away from moment to moment awareness.
He uses the example of walking down the street and seeing someone you know. You wave or shout at them and they just walk by without acknowledging you. Some people can brush this kind of incident off and forget about it quickly – they must not have seen me, that’s fine, no problem.
Others struggle and start speculating and ruminating about why the person ignored them. What did I do to upset them? What did I do wrong? What was the last conversation I had with them? Did I say something to offend them? And on and on the mind can go on speculative tangents.
In truth there could be many reasons why the person didn’t acknowledge us. They may just not have seen us because they were preoccupied with things in their own life, they may have been on the phone, they may have seen that someone was waving at them but are slow on the uptake and didn’t realize who it was until they were well past you. They may not have been wearing their glasses and so couldn’t even see someone waving at them at distance!
In some cases it may have been a genuine snub but in most cases it probably wasn’t. But some of us struggle to just let go of the incident and forget about it. We want to know why they didn’t acknowledge us, and the mind starts digging and ruminating to find a reason why . Some people struggle to deal with not knowing, and their minds become overactive trying to find a reason for everything that happens to them. They start speculating and going beyond the evidence.
All of this serves to take us out of the here and now, and can also lead to put us in a bad mood, and then start thinking about our bad mood and get even more upset that we are thinking about our bad mood, and this way thinking and mood get locked together in a downward spiral. We start trying to think our way out of a bad mood and in doing so just make our bad mood worse.
And this is how our thinking can serve to escalate depression out of control and give it so much power over us. We feel the depression coming on, we recognise this and start to worry about it and try to think where it’s coming from or what’s causing it. We are also now thinking about our bad mood instead of just experiencing it. And as soon as the thinking and the mood get locked together, this is when depression can start to overwhelm us. Trying to think our way out of it only causes it to escalate and have more power over us.
Medication Isn’t Working For A Lot of People
When they start to feel themselves sinking into depression a lot of people go to their doctor to get some help. Most often they are prescribed anti-depression medication, which has many problems of its own. Firstly, even assuming they “work” in some fashion, they often take several weeks to fully kick and give the limited benefits they do for some people.
Secondly, they just simply don’t work properly for some people, or they “work” in a very limited narrow way by simply mentally deadening the person, numbing them out to both good and bad feelings. This can’t really be argued to be a cure. Furthermore it has been demonstrated that anti-depressant medication can create strong dependency and withdrawal symptoms when people try to come off them. So medication is sometimes not only not solving the original problem but also adding another one on top of it in the form of dependency.
Not knowing any other solution people often turn to medication to alleviate depression. Anti-depressants often don’t work and can cause significant problems of their own
The idea that depression is some kind of purely physical disease of the brain has been thoroughly debunked and shown to be false. Mental disorder does not equal brain disorder so at very best all that anti-depressants can do is treat symptom and not cause, and arguably not even that. The over-prescribing of anti-depressants helps to serve the big drug companies that manufacture them, but it does not really solve people’s problems on a mental level.
Scientific studies have started to back up what many people have learnt themselves through personal experience using anti-depressants. A comprehensive recent study on the effectiveness of anti-depressant medication has concluded that they effectively make no difference to depression versus not taking them. This study plus another one are linked below.
Thomas Szasz on Psuedo-Psychiatry
Niall McLaren on Psuedo-Psychiatry
Of course it cannot be ruled out that medication has helped and even been a life saver for some people, but it should ideally be used in emergencies only. Anti-depressant medications are not meant to be prescribed to someone for years on end and are not an adequate long term solution for more holistic treatments like psychotherapy and meditation.
Of course the situation is not helped by the fact that even in countries where publicly funded counselling and psychotherapy is available, the system is so backed up in places that the waiting times can be very long, with some people waiting up to two years for treatment for severe mental health conditions.
It is also true that not everyone can afford expensive private psychotherapy, so some other holistic solutions have to come in to fill the gap given the long waiting lists and over-prescribing of anti-depressants as a “quick fix”. This is where mindfulness meditation can be of enormous benefit to people, which we will turn to now.
Mindfulness as a Holistic Solution
Mindfulness simply means being present with things in the present moment, as they are, without judgement. It is about observing the five senses and the workings of the mind, especially overthinking, instead of getting caught up in them. It is about separating ourselves from negative mind states and moods like rumination, worry and depression by simply watching them with curiosity instead of trying to push them away.
The tradition of mindfulness has been most extensively practiced and cultivated within the Buddhist tradition, but many of these principles have been repackaged into very simple meditations that anyone can practice and gain benefit from, whatever their religion, culture or beliefs. Mindfulness meditation is not dogmatic and can be a totally non religious secular practice if someone wants it to be.
At a beginner level mindfulness meditation simply involves paying attention to the breath or other bodily sensations without any judgement. The person just watches their breath going in and out, and whenever their mind wanders, they simply bring it back to the breath, or whatever else they were focusing on for that meditation.
This kind of meditation can bring about some amazing benefits in a short space of time. Firstly, the person just becomes more tuned in to what’s going on around them on a moment to moment level. The meditation trains them to notice more in the present moment, and also notice sooner when they are not present and bring their attention back. They can spot their mind wandering more quickly and bring it back to the present.
Secondly, the very act of letting all momentary experiences, feelings, and moods in and just observing them without judgement, very quickly dissolves this aversive and avoidant tendency that we tend to have to negative moods like depression and takes the wind out of the sails of them. Because we are no longer trying to push it away and are instead just letting it in and observing it, it tends to go away by itself in very short order.
Meditators begin to see that depression and other negative mind states like anxiety, fear, worry, rumination, are all just momentary phenomena that come and go like anything else and so we stop being so afraid of them. We also start to see more quickly the patterns of the mind wandering, ruminating, speculating and going beyond the evidence, and we are able to pull it back to the present more quickly. We start to become more self aware and composed in our minds.
The benefits of mindfulness meditation in comparison to medication are numerous
- Mindfulness is a totally free practice with plenty of online resources online to get started – we will link to some below.
- Mindfulness is completely holistic and does not require any medication.
- It is completely portable in the sense you can do meditation anywhere you can find a quiet undisturbed space
- Even a small amount of daily practice can produce noticeable and quick results.
- It often produces broader positive changes in a person’s life, including improved focus, concentration, calmness and empathy, and improved interpersonal relationships as well as better sleep and a host of other benefits.
Meditation Can Help Across the Board With All Kinds Of Mental Conditions including Depression
People who meditate would never see any need to end their life as some depressed people do
How Can I Get Started With Mindfulness?
There are plenty of free introductory mindfulness meditation videos online, but we will link to a very accessible 8 week introductory set of videos put together by mindfulness expert Mark Williams. They simply involve a series of meditations, of which you do one per week, at least once per day, to get you tuned in to the various senses and flows of thoughts.
The benefits of meditation tend to be proportional to the amount you do so the longer you can spend on these meditations the better. If you can do them two or three times a day then that may deliver more benefit; nevertheless after even a small amount of meditation practice you should start to notice an improvement in awareness and conditions such as depression should improve as you learn to see mind states as temporary things which come and go.
The meditations start with focusing on the body sensations and breath, move up to a full body scan, and then onto sounds, thoughts and other mental phenomenon. They will therefore train you to become more present with what is happening in your body and mind right now, and within a very short time all the benefits we mentioned will follow.
Introductory Meditation Course:
- Week 1 – Body and Breath
- Week 2 & 3 – Body Scan
- Week 4 – Breath and Body
- Week 5 – Sounds and Thoughts
- Week 6 – Exploring Difficulties
- Week 7 – Befriending
- Week 8 – 3 Minute Breathing Space
See also Yutthadhammo Bhikkhu’s brief 3 part introduction to meditation
- How to Meditate I – What is Meditation?
- How to Meditate II – Sitting Meditation
- How to Meditate III – Walking Meditation
You can convert these videos into audio files if you wish using a Youtube to MP3 Converter so you have a portable version to take around with you on MP3 players and other devices.