Reducing Depression Through Spiritual Connection
In this article, I’m going to outline some of spiritual strategies to combat depression that I have recently come across in my research. My intention is to personally take stock of these concepts and implement actionable changes in my own life. The theories in this post will be introduced from a very high-level perspective; however, it is highly likely that in the future, I will continue to dive deeper and further explore these concepts, in which case I will come back to this article and provide links to my future analysis.
For now, I’ll provide links to the free resources that have proved interesting to me and have a more in-depth look at the concepts presented.
This post is a follow-up to last week’s update, in which I confided that I am going to be pursuing more natural remedies to replace my daily dose of antidepressants. For more insight about why I have decided to discontinue my use of antidepressants, click here.
I have come across 9 natural methods for dealing with depression, but will only be exploring one of these within this post: deepening your spiritual connection.
Stay tuned for my research and thoughts on the other 8 methods for combating depression!
What Do I Mean By “Spiritual”, Anyway?
Unfortunately, rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide are growing rapidly within our communities; scholars, journalists, and medical professionals alike agree that depression is reaching epidemic levels.
But, why, during a time where we have more access to technologies and tools that any time in human history, are we so unhappy with our surroundings?
One of the theories that explains why we are becoming so depressed in this day and age is that never before has the average person been so disconnected from a sense of spirituality. The thought is that this “malaise” is literally due to how we’re living within our modern society.
Ok, ok… “spirituality” is a totally loaded word, I get it! I’d say that up until a few years ago, I was basically incapable of NOT rolling my eyes when I heard this word. The word itself conjures up woo-woo images of crystals, adherence to potentially archaic religions, and even groups of smelly people with their eyes closed. Not to mention that until recently, the people who I had heard talking about spirituality usually had a few beads in their hair or were offering tarot readings from a booth at the street fair. Maybe I’m exaggerating, but you know what I mean. If you hear the word spirituality and start itching to walk in the other direction, I hear you.
At the same time, I want to say that along the course of my life journey, I have become more accepting of the concept of spirituality and believe that it is something I need to incorporate into my personal life to achieve my full potential.
I also know that embracing spirituality has nothing to do with having beads in one’s hair (although, I’ll add beads to my hair when I’m older if I want to!). Rather, anyone in this modern world is capable of discovering what spirituality means for them and incorporating components of this into their life for increased happiness and improved mental health.
One of the strategies that I will be using to improve my depression from a spiritual perspective is meditation.
So, you’ve probably already heard a lot of talk about meditation. About 12% of adults in the United States practice meditation, and the rate of meditation in America is growing (increased 4% between 2012 and 2016). Like a lot of spiritual “stuff”, the first buzz I heard about meditation came directly from L.A.
A few years ago, I was listening to a podcast and I learned that Questlove has used meditation for years in order to create a clear mind with which he could compose new music as well as keep up with his busy schedule (he writes and films for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon by day, and composes and records by night). To be honest, this knowledge alone - that Questlove meditates for enhanced energy and creativity - was enough to peak my interest. If you’re not familiar with Questlove’s work, check this out.
I have found a REVOLT interview in which Questlove highlights the benefits that he has experienced through meditation. Give this a listen! I am so inspired by his perspective on how meditation allows him to explore his “inner nothing”, thus helping him recharge when he most needs it.
Since my interest in meditation first peaked, I have been learning more and more about the benefits of meditation. My husband is an avid meditator, and therefore his positive influence has helped me to embrace meditation (plus, it’s hard to say “no” to his invitation to meditate when a mesmerizing female voice is already emanating from his phone and the incense is already lit). While I am pretty laid back, those that know me well know that I am quick to stress out and will over-analyze almost anything. Since meditating, I have been less reactive to stressors and am definitely more calm in the face of conflict.
Meditation helps to reduce the pent-up anxiety that someone has in their body. It helps to reduce the “fight or flight” reaction that many of us naturally respond with when we are presented with conflict. A session of meditation, in my mind, is comparable with taking a dose of CBD.
I recently watched the documentary film HEAL (free on Netflix!) that highlighted just why meditation is able to reduce stress and also help to combat depression. It turns out that meditation activates the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which is the system that controls relaxation and is the anti-thesis of the autonomic sympathetic nervous system, which is the system that activates the “fight or flight” reaction within the body. The parasympathetic nervous system is not activated until the body is temporarily devoid of stress, but even a small dose of meditation can get your body to this state. This is why meditation is scientifically proven to be effective - it calms the body down and gives the body relief from the other-wise constant stream of stress that is common for most Americans.
Interestingly enough (and this is highlighted in HEAL), medical professionals are uncovering that when the body’s parasympathetic system is activated, the body is then capable of healing itself (for both physical and mental ailments, such as depression). The small moments of calm and nothingness, as well as the cocktail of natural chemicals that our pituitary glands release when we meditate - this can literally heal you!
I also recently listened to an excellent podcast in which a “nod” was made to the effectiveness of meditation as a cure for depression. The podcast, Episode 183 of 10% Happier With Dan Harris, is entitled “Fighting Depression with Social Connection” and features a discussion between Dan Harris and journalist/social scientist Johann Hari. The episode touches on the current depression crisis and also outlines strategies for dealing with these challenges within our current lifestyle, including meditation.
One of the most interesting points made on this podcast episode is that Hari correlates the increase of depression with the increase of ego-driven decision making that is common in Western society, particularly America. According to Hari, addiction to the self and addiction to the ego are related to depression. Oftentimes, we feel like we get “stuck” in ourselves. So, for healing purposes, there is a need to get someone to detach from their own ego, which becomes possible through consciousness altering remedies such as yoga, meditation, psychedelics, cannabis, or exposure to nature.
Exposure to Nature
Ever feel better after taking a walk through nature? Yes? Well, there’s a reason for that.
In his discussion with Dan Harris, Hari talks about how proximity to green space and time spent in nature has the potential to reduce the brain’s natural obsession with itself; when we are among nature, it’s easier to witness that we are part of a broader ecosystem.
This is similar to what my husband says. Whenever I’m feeling down, he says, “let’s go take a walk and look at green things; it will make you feel better”.
Hari explains how nature assists with ego dissolution with a particularly salient quote in the podcast. “Generally”, he says, “what people get in beautiful scenes of the natural world is a feeling of awe. And a feeling of awe is a moment when you feel really small and the world feels big and you are released from your ego, you realize that you are part of this huge tapestry - it’s not all about you; you are actually just a really small dot in this beautiful cosmos”.
You might be thinking… “So? How is a dissolution of our self-obsession going to make us happier?” The reason is that we are innately social creatures; we literally are not able to survive through life without the connectedness we receive through relationships with other people. Self-obsession breeds loneliness, and loneliness breeds depression.
Bringing Spirituality Into Daily Life
As I continue to search for other strategies for curing depression, I will be making a conscious effort to incorporate spiritual practices in my life - in the form of regular meditation practice as well as consistent nature walks. Luckily, these will be just small tweaks in my life; I am fortunate enough to have three meditation cushions available to me in my apartment and my husband and I live just minutes away from Seattle’s Ravenna Park.
I hope that this article highlights that you, too, can easily implement these small spiritual changes into your own life to improve your mental health. What I love about both of these “fixes” is that they are accessible to most of us, and best of all, completely free!
Happy traveling, both inside yourself and outside in nature!