Monday, March 06, 2006

Depression- Self Help With Meditation - By Pradeep Chadha

A young lady I had seen, suffered with Post-Natal Depression. She was advised to take antidepressant medication for an indefinite period of time by her psychiatrist. She wanted to have another baby but was advised strongly against it because of the medication and the possibility of having depression again if she had another baby. She agreed to use meditation as an important part of her treatment. After finishing her treatment involving meditation, she became pregnant. In time,she gave birth to a baby. For a short period, lasting for less than a week, she was exhausted. While in hospital she was again advised to see the psychiatrist for medication. But because she had been meditating regularly, she was able to come out of exhaustion quicker and is not depressed anymore.

According to psychiatrists, depression is an illness that has to be treated mainly with medications. In the current industrialized society, crying or grieving is for the ‘weak’. Quite a contrast from olden times when the folks had all the time to cry and share emotions with family and friends. In the name of being productive, in modern society, the emotional expression is blocked because one has to ‘get on with life’. This was and has been the attitude justified for the ‘stiff upper lip’.

Depression can also be looked at a state or a ‘condition’ that could be temporary. The person suffering is unable to get out of the trap of thinking about something in the past and is unable to see much positive in the present. This is depression. It is a state of the body and the mind.

Sometimes the person has gone through many traumas and has experienced many losses and is angry with many people. Despite keeping themselves busy, such people experience a low grade depressive state that they cannot explain or understand. This happens because ‘understanding’ occurs at a conscious level. At the subconscious or unconscious level, the body and the mind still carry the burden of the unpleasant experiences. People who have stiff upper lip will say- ‘I do not know why I am suffering. But life has to go on’. This statement comes from the conscious (understanding) part of the mind. Unfortunately, suffering is a feeling and it is ‘unconscious’. How can you treat a ‘feeling’ with logic? It is not possible. It is not possible because logic and feeling are two different parameters. You cannot measure one against the other.

Meditation, like hypnosis, works at an unconscious level. The interesting part is that meditation also affects our conscious mind. So whatever unconscious changes are brought about in the mind, they affect the logical and conscious part of our mind too. This is the principal basis on which meditation helps in a depressed state.

Many times people who are depressed about the past are also anxious about the future. Anxiety is a state of arousal or over-stimulation of the nervous system. It is this arousal state that causes increased secretion of cortisol- a stress hormone. So depressed people tend to have an increased stress in their bodies and not less stress. They are slow because they reach a state of physical and mental exhaustion Even from common sense point of view, the treatment for exhaustion is rest. In the case of the emotional and nervous exhaustion, rest of the mind is the treatment of choice. How is our mind rested? Not with sleep, but it rests with meditation.

Though in old literature, meditation and hypnosis have been contraindicated in depression, I have used both, in helping patients with depression. (For more information you can read the article- Meditation Can Make You Emotionally Distressed -with Meditation and antidepressants have opposite effects on the nervous system. The former releases emotions locked up in the body, the latter block the emotions in the body.

Meditation can be helpful in clearing up the emotional distress that one is experiencing with depression. If you want to use meditation as a drug, you can. Just like the dosage of a drug is increased or decreased, depending on need, the time spent on meditation can be increased or decreased and the variable effects will be experienced.

In the first instance, as you start meditation, do not spend more than five minutes doing it daily. Sick to five minutes of meditation and do not do more than five minutes. Initially you will feel better. This effect would last for a few days. Then you will start to feel depressed or angry. If you can handle the feeling that comes, carry on doing the meditation for five minutes daily. If you cannot handle it, stop doing meditation for two or three days. Within 48 to72 hours of you stopping the meditation, you will feel better. As soon as that happens, start doing the meditation again for five minutes daily. Again, you may feel depressed or angry after a few days. Again stop doing meditation for a few days till you start to feel better. Again start meditation daily for five minutes daily.

As time goes on, your body will become used to relaxing with five minutes of meditation. If you do not feel angry or low for two weeks at a stretch as you continue meditation, it is time to make further progress. Your body is now ready to relax more. You can then increase the meditation to seven minutes a day. The same steps, as above, have to be followed till you have two weeks of ‘good period’. Then increase the meditation to ten minutes a day.

Remember that the effects of meditation and medication are in the opposite direction. Meditation relaxes by releasing emotions, meditation numbs the emotions, so you feel nothing. So if you come off medication quickly and start meditation to cure yourself, you will go into depression fast. Coming off antidepressant medication has the same effect on the body as starting to meditate. The body tends to come back into its original emotional state.

This method is good for people suffering with mild or moderate depression. It cannot be done as self-help by someone who wants to come off antidepressant medication. However, under supervision, medication can be reduced without experiencing depression ,using meditation.

Pradeep K Chadha is a psychiatrist who specialises in helping patients with meditation and imagery using little or no medication. He is the author of The Stress Barrier-Nature's Way To Overcoming Stress published by Blackhall Publishing, Dublin. He is based in Dublin, Ireland.His website address is :

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