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Can Meditation Improve Symptoms of Depression?

The Stigma of Mental Health Disorders 

Imagine this scenario: after a friendly yoga class with your coworkers, you notice Anne is acting somewhat unlike herself. You can’t quite describe it, so you keep it to yourself. The next day Anne comes to work and you notice she’s awkwardly opening doors, writing illegible notes and becoming frustrated, but when you ask her about it she denies anything is wrong. This continues, until a week later you sit with Anne to discuss it. Embarrassed, Anne tells you she broke her wrist during yoga. You’re in disbelief, you had no idea. Why didn't Anne seek treatment? She’s been living with this painful affliction that has reduced her productivity, clouded her mood and significantly diminished her quality of life, yet she has taken no action. You don’t want your friend to suffer, so you take it upon yourself to ensure she receives the help she needs.
Now, what if we were to replace “broken wrist” with “depression”? Are you as determined to convince your friend to seek help? Anne is still hurting and embarrassed, and her productivity continues to decrease. 

The Leading Cause of Disability
Depression is thleading cause of disability worldwide, but only about half of those diagnosed receive treatment - in many countries this is fewer than 10%. Although getting help from health care professionals is always a recommended approach, many people lack the resources, time and access to such care. This can cause people to lose hope and possibly even turn to detrimental forms of self-medication. The National Institute of Mental Health defines depression as a “mood disorder that causes severe symptoms affecting how you feel, think, and handle daily activities”. The combination of environmental factors, personality, genetics and biochemistry can lead to its onset, with the potential to affect anyone at anytime. Although not all of these factors can be easily changed, what if we could reduce our susceptibility to depression or improve our ability to live well with it in a safe, affordable and healthful way?

The Trouble with an Overactive Amygdala 

Altering our daily lives to incorporate a meditation practice may, as part of a healthy lifestyle, help reduce the symptom severity of depression. One brain structure closely associated with depression is the amygdala, known for its role in modulating the fear response. In depressed people, the volume of the amygdala tends to be larger and overly active in response to negative stimuli. This means that when someone suffering from depression sees something upsetting, feelings of negativity or sadness become more intense than usual. Additionally, positive stimuli don't produce the same level of happiness due to this overactive amygdala. However, through medical imaging, reviews have shown that meditation may counteract depression by reducing amygdala activity and by increasing activity of the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex and other brain regions associated with attention and emotional self-regulation! Researchers have hypothesized that this could be due to the skills gained from meditation combined with the plasticity of the brain and its restructuring ability. 

Increasing Dopamine Levels Naturally

Another way meditation might help treat depression is by altering dopamine levels. Dopamine is well known for being the neurotransmitter responsible for making us feel good. However, having reduced levels of dopamine has been associated with significant contributions to the development of depression. Often people suffering from depression are treated with antidepressants that increase dopamine levels. However, like most drugs, side effects are common and can be so severe that users discontinue use of the drug. An increasing amount of researchers are validating meditation’s ability to increase dopamine levels. One study showed that compared to the healthy control group, meditators had significantly higher levels of dopamine, likely by activating certain brain regions associated with its release. 
Meditation for Mental Health
Even though researchers are still establishing the mechanisms underlying meditation’s effects on the brain, the benefits of the practice are becoming widely acknowledged in the scientific community. In our technologically-advanced and high stress society, the diagnoses of depression and other mental illnesses are increasing. By sharing meditation research and products with you, we hope to provide you with tools that can help you and your families live with good health, happiness and peace.

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