There’s been a lot of press lately suggesting that meditation is the answer to finding more peace from the haunting symptoms of anxiety and depression. Robin Williams’ recent death got me reflecting about this as I’ve struggled to grapple with my traditional nursing beliefs and my more recent experiences and knowledge about meditation.
It’s interesting that for many years my nursing practice focused on mental health and dealing with anxiety and depression. For people that were clinically depressed, medication was a significant part of the management plan. Of course, counseling and other strategies were often included. Meditation, at the time wasn’t on the radar screen, at least on my radar screen.
In more recent years, there has been an explosion of research about meditation. On January 6, 2014, The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published the results of a groundbreaking study. They found that meditation appears to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as antidepressants.
Being a Certified Meditation Teacher, I of course was all over this research, and love to share it every chance I get. I know from experience, that meditation is a powerful and effective tool for anxiety and depression. I have witnessed many people find greater peace, less anxiety and stress from establishing a meditation practice.
I have also seen many people who are clinically depressed and suicidal, benefit tremendously from medication. For many, the medication lifts enough of the dark cloud that enables them to move towards choices that are more conducive to healing, like meditation.
I personally am most comfortable with a balanced and comprehensive approach to managing anxiety and depression. I have seen the most profound changes when a combination of approaches have been tried. For example, I can think of many people who were severely depressed to the point they couldn’t get out of bed in the morning and function. They were started on antidepressants, and this enabled them to begin taking some baby steps forwards. In addition to medication, they were open to counseling, reading, exercising, yoga, meditation, journalling, and the spiritual journey inward. Before long many of these people felt they were ready to come off the antidepressants and did incredibly well living fully without the effects of anxiety and depression.
Others who started on antidepressants, thinking it was the solution to all their problems, and didn’t try any of the other tools, didn’t make the same progress. They continued to struggle with anxiety and depression both off and on the medication. One thing I believe, medication alone is not the answer, and that real change requires work and an openness to try different things, speak to different people, read different books and yes going on that journey inward.
The inner journey is where meditation comes in. There is no better way to become more intimate with our thoughts, feelings, emotions than through meditation. Meditation enables us to shine that light of awareness onto our depression and anxiety. Awareness is the first step towards healing. Meditation also changes the structure and function of our brain that directly impacts the symptoms of anxiety and depression. How meditation changes our brain is a hot topic for another day!
So, I guess my vote is for a balanced approach, one that recognizes the knowledge and wisdom of traditional medicine, with the power of becoming more aware of what is going on inside of us. What are your thoughts?