There are many types of meditation, but all involve focusing attention on something, such as a word, a phrase, an image, an idea or the act of breathing. Mindfulness is a commonly practiced type of meditation. Mindfulness meditation might involve sitting in a quiet environment for around 20 minutes a day and focusing your attention on your breath. Mindfulness can also be incorporated into daily activities, such as eating a meal and really focusing on the textures and taste of the food. For some people, meditation is a spiritual or religious activity and they use meaningful thoughts as the focus of their meditation. However, mindfulness and meditation can also be practiced without any spiritual or religious goal.
Mindfulness-based stress reduction is a particular type of therapy which incorporates meditation, body awareness and yoga.
Mindfulness can also be incorporated into other psychological therapies – see mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
Meditation can be used as a relaxation method to relieve stress and anxiety. Practicing calm, deep breathing creates physiological changes in the body which may help reduce stress. Many people who have depression also experience stress and anxiety, so reducing these symptoms could improve their depressive symptoms also. Being mindful involves awareness without judgement or reaction. This may help change people’s attitudes towards their feelings or events to be more positive and help them develop better coping skills.
There has been a lot of research looking at how mindfulness and meditation affects wellbeing generally, but not many studies which have looked at it as a specific treatment for depression.
Several reviews of research have found that mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy can be helpful at reducing depression symptoms. These types of therapy also include aspects of cognitive therapies as well – for example, cognitive behaviour therapy.
There is less scientific evidence on how simple mindlessness and meditation exercises might benefit people with depression. However, some small studies have found that mindfulness and meditation can be effective in reducing depression symptoms.
Some health professionals do not recommend meditation for people with severe depression or for people who might be at risk of schizophrenia. If you feel worse during or after practicing meditation or mindfulness, it’s best to stop the practice.
Books on how to meditate are available in many bookshops and guided meditation videos can be found online. Various organisations, generally with spiritual goals, also offer training in meditation – for example, local Buddhist temples. Mindfulness and meditation is also incorporated into some yoga classes.
Here is a simple technique of meditation that is similar to those taught in these books and courses:
Mindfulness and meditation practices appear to be a promising treatment for depression, but more research is needed to be sure it is effective.
Last reviewed and updated: 1 November 2019