Depression and anxiety continue to loom as significant public health concerns, particularly within the realm of working professionals. In the fast-paced modern world, where ambition and achievement drive the engines of success, depression and anxiety have stealthily established themselves as formidable foes. Over 42.5% of working adults in India are struggling with anxiety and depression. Meditation for anxiety is gaining recognition as an effective approach to combat these silent battles, casting shadows over productivity, stifling creativity, and eroding well-being.
Depression can be treated in several ways. Traditional first-line treatments include antidepressants and psychotherapy, but new evidence suggests that regular meditation practice can help by altering the brain's response to stress and anxiety. Meditation for anxiety has shown promising results in improving mental health.
While depression and anxiety might seem pretty distinct, for the most part, some symptoms can overlap in both. Anxiety is characterized by excessive worry, nervousness, and fear, while a persistent low, sad, or hopeless mood indicates depression. Meditation for anxiety can be a valuable tool in managing these shared symptoms and promoting overall well-being.
However, there are several symptoms shared among these conditions. It's not always easy to know what your symptoms mean if you're dealing with a condition like this because they can manifest differently for different people.
It's also possible to have both depression and anxiety at the same time: A worldwide survey from 2015 found that 41.6% of people reported having both major depression and an anxiety disorder during the same 12-month period.
What is a key similarity between depression and anxiety? With the help of a trained mental health professional, both can improve.
We'll describe each disorder's most prominent indicators and advise on how to deal with them below. Several distinguishing features help differentiate depression from anxiety.
Understanding the Difference Between Anxiety & Depression
While it's natural to experience sadness and hopelessness during challenging times, ongoing feelings of emptiness and sadness, unaffected by positive experiences or changes, could be signs of depression.
Depression is characterized by a low, sad, or empty feeling in addition to the following symptoms:
Anxiety, or feelings of unease, fear, or worry, affects nearly everyone occasionally. You might feel anxious because anxiety is a normal stress response, especially before major life events, significant decisions, and new endeavors.
But if you're anxious almost every day for months, you might have Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or another anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders extend beyond the worry about unexpected life challenges. It often stems from but goes beyond worries about health, grades, or relationships, and concerns can lead to persistent thoughts and fears that start to impact day-to-day functioning.
The most prominent symptoms of chronic anxiety are:
While it's important to remember not everyone with depression, anxiety, or both conditions will experience the same set of symptoms, the two conditions commonly involve several of the same symptoms.
Sometimes, you might find yourself:
Seeking professional help from a therapist is recommended if you are experiencing these symptoms. Psychotropic medication can also help reduce anxiety and depression symptoms. However, medication alone is not sufficient to address the underlying issues, so your doctor or psychiatrist will likely also recommend therapy.
Other approaches that can treat both conditions:
Mindfulness Therapy for Anxiety and Depression
Research findings from a meta-analysis of 47 studies shed light on the potential of guided meditation including meditation for anxiety and depression as a viable treatment for stress-related conditions such as anxiety and depression. Several studies consistently demonstrate that engaging in mindfulness meditation programs can have a profound impact on mental well-being, comparable to the effects of antidepressant medication. As per a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) has resulted in reduced relapse rates among patients with significant depression symptoms for an impressive duration of up to 60 weeks, irrespective of their gender, education, age, or relationship status.
According to Dr. John W. Denninger, Director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, " "meditation for anxiety trains the brain to achieve sustained focus and to return to that focus when negative thinking, emotions, and physical sensations intrude," which is common when experiencing stress and anxiety. Meditation has been found to help alter certain brain regions specifically linked to depression. For instance, research has shown that people with depression have increased activity in their medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is commonly called the "me center" because it is the brain region responsible for processing information related to the individual. The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) kicks into high gear during high stress.
The amygdala, also known as the "fear center", is another area of the brain linked to depression. When we're scared or feel in danger, our brain's amygdala kicks into high gear, releasing the stress hormone cortisol from our adrenal glands.
The depression-inducing effects of these two brain areas reinforce one another. As a defense mechanism against an imaginary threat, stress and anxiety raise cortisol levels in the "fear" center, which controls the "me" center. Studies have shown that meditation can help unlink these parts of the brain.
Lowering stress levels through meditation is possible because the practice trains the mind to ignore unpleasant sensations like those caused by stress and anxiety.
The hippocampus is another part of the brain that benefits from meditation (a brain area involved in memory). Although people with recurrent depression have been found to have a smaller hippocampus, a recent study found that meditating for 30 minutes a day for eight weeks increased the volume of gray matter in the hippocampus.
How Meditation Changes Your Thinking
The point of meditation isn't to ignore stress or to shut out negative thoughts but to become aware of both while simultaneously realizing that you don't have to give in to either. Simply closing your eyes and repeating a single word or phrase, or counting your breaths, can help. This can help create space between you and your stressful thoughts or feelings, allowing you to see them for what they are—outside forces that can't define you.
The mind trained through meditation can better handle stress. Taking a few minutes to meditate before going into a social situation or seeing a doctor can help the mind and body transition out of the stress response and into a more relaxed state. Many people find that mindfulness meditation helps them better manage their responses to the stress and anxiety that often lead to depression.
When you are feeling anxious, depressed, overwhelmed, and unfulfilled by your life's situations- real or imaginary, mindfulness helps instill a reflective quality in your thought processes. It allows you to become more aware of simple moments of joy and the mundane and boring. When we're not caught up in action, we begin to piece together more details - and see from a different perspective, being able to do that helps in every aspect of life.
Here is a meditation by Rishma Palkar to help you reduce your anxiety and experience deep relaxation and a sense of calm.
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