Depression can be cured by medication and psychotherapy, but meditation can also have a very healing effect.
Depression is commonly used term to describe a range of feelings pertaining to a sense of low well being. Beck and Alford have attempted to provide a comprehensive description of the term as typified by altered mood, negative self image and reduced activity levels. The feelings may vary from sadness to an extended period of despondency at varying levels. Specific events may lead to a feeling of ‘being low’. An event like a birthday that is forgotten by a close friend, a recent loss or separation without concurrent support from friends or family is a situation that may exacerbate depression. Some people are prone to depression regardless of the comfort and care they receive in their surroundings. Cases of depression are treated as mental disorders when the sense of reality is adversely affected. There are chronicles of highly intelligent people who berate their low mental capabilities and successful ones who feel bad about being failures. So, how do we care for our minds in this state?
The Way We Think
Take the case of Mrs. X who is hauled up by her supervisor for an error in her work. Mrs. X’s reaction is to feel hurt and withdraw. She starts telling herself she is useless because she makes too many mistakes. She remembers that this has been a problem since her childhood. She carries her anguish about the error and her inability to her home and finds it difficult to sleep. She sees a box of chocolates and binges. She tries to cry but finds it difficult to do so. She recalls all the past situations when she has been hauled up for mistakes and berates herself harshly. The next morning sees her wishing she did not have to go to work, in fact not wanting to get out of the bed. There is a downward spiral in her trend of thought.
Now, if Mrs. X were to view the situation objectively, she would probably realize that the error is because of flawed work planning or insufficient time to check her output. She would also realize that she has entered into a habit of accepting blame without ascertaining whether there are solutions to help her work better. Her current trend of thought impacts all aspects of her life and draws her deeper into a vortex of self-hate. She is unable to talk to her family about it because she knows they will be critical of her. She has no friends she can fall back on, she never could make friends.
An objective view would allow her to come up with better results. She would realize that her emotional reactions are probably based in childhood events where she was blamed for small mistakes and has adopted the attitude of being at fault. She has grown up to find that she is often at fault and fails to see that errors can be rectified or avoided. Of late, she has started developing severe headaches and often feels weepy without reason. Her food habits are erratic and she drives herself into binge eating situations. She is unable to recall a single event in her life that caused her to feel happy.
How Meditation Can Help
Meditation involves being in a comfortable position and focusing on breath as it enters and exits from the body. The body is guided into a state of restfulness and the person starts to go through a feeling of peacefulness. Some people may feel a headache coming on, but this goes away quickly. Some go through moments of catharsis while others feel itchy all over the body. Most of us prefer to keep ourselves occupied in activity that allows us to drown out past memories, chatter in our minds and a host of self negating beliefs. When we meditate, our feelings and thoughts come to the fore. In most cases, symptoms of discomfort disappear in a short while and the person starts looking forward to being engulfed in peace and quiet for a while. The person is guided to accept thoughts as they play out in the mind without becoming part of them. Repeated efforts yield the fruit of calmness, acceptance and widened perspective.
To understand the effect of meditation we must first understand the work of our nervous system in helping us to feel good. Our nervous system consists of tiny nerve cells that transfer impulses with the use of chemicals called neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitter, serotonin, is associated with a feeling of well being. Research on meditation has identified that this neurotransmitter is released during the practice of meditation and similar soothing activity.
In the case of Mrs. X, meditation will work on the physical discomfort that she faces and help alleviate the problem. She will be introduced to the idea that she is a valuable person and will find her mind slowly opening to a state of acceptance of herself. The utilization of psychotherapy in conjunction with meditation aids an opening up of the person’s mind to the mental games that one is being trapped in. As she continues in her practice with professional help, she will start to see her strengths and discover new sides of herself that she has not been aware of. She is likely to go through cathartic moments as she recognizes self-defeating thought patterns and sees others like herself.
Mrs. X should avoid trying to enter the phase of deep meditation until she has reached a stage of self awareness that allows her to stop dejection getting the better of her. The process of meditation works at the pace of a person’s acceptance of completeness. It increases the awareness of sameness between different individuals. She will slowly become aware that her concentration is under her control and can be improved with effort on her side.
Aspects to be Aware of
Meditation has a direct impact on the blood pressure of a person. It is proven to be beneficial for people with high blood pressure. Meditation should not be considered to be a ‘benign intervention’ explain Snyder and Lindquist in their book ‘Complementary/ alternate therapies in nursing’ (2006, p. 136-138). Patients who are on dosage for diabetes and hypertension must have their dosage reviewed after meditation. The authors are of the view that vital signs like blood pressure and heart rate should be monitored through the day in the initial phase for patients suffering from these diseases. They mention studies that have shown a connection between meditative practices and the reduction of HIV/AIDS killer cell activity. The practice is highly recommended for people undergoing chronic physical pain and stress or anxiety.
The authors recommend against the use of meditation for people who have hypotension since the blood pressure is likely to reduce further. In some cases, people go through hallucinations that require psychiatric treatment and medication to return them to a state of normalcy.
Postural hypotension is typified by giddiness due to a rapid shift to a vertical position after meditation. People who face this problem must get up from meditation in slow phases to avoid a sudden drop in blood pressure. People who are in a state of altered reality perception may find it difficult to follow the instructions to meditate at the start.
Until the person is able to concentrate and follow through with the instructions, it can be challenging to use guided meditation. In such cases, soothing music or continuous chants may be utilized in conjunction with prescribed medication. All in all, it is essential to practice meditation with the guidance an experienced practitioner who can gauge the pace at which you should practice and recommend a suitable method.
McNamara, Patrick, (2006). Where God and Science Meet. Greenwood Publishing Group.
Snyder, Mariah & Lindquist, Ruth (2006). Complementary/Alternative Therapies in Nursing. Springer Publishing Company.