A Quick, Cheap, and Effective Way to Fight Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

This technique reduced depressive symptoms by 40 percent in only two months.

Meditation is good for depression. And so is exercise. But, according to a small new study from Rutgers University, together—in a twice a week regime—they might be better than the sum of their parts.

For the study, published in Translational Psychiatry, researchers  set out to understand how meditation and exercise would affect depression symptoms for 22 participants with clinical depression and 30 mentally healthy participants.

Each participant completed a MAP (mental and physical) behavioral therapy regime twice-a-week for eight weeks: 30 minutes of meditation where they were directed to refocus on breathing if they thought about the past or the future. They then exercised for 30 minutes. At the end of the study, participants reported 40 percent fewer depressive systems and less negative thoughts and overall worrying.

“We know these therapies can be practiced over a lifetime and that they will be effective in improving mental and cognitive health,” Brandon Alderman, assistant professor at Rutgers University and lead study author, said in a statement. “The good news is that this intervention can be practiced by anyone at any time and at no cost.”

From the moment you wake up, you’re on the move—and rushing. Rushing to get out of the house, rushing to finish work projects, rushing to pick up the dry cleaning, rushing to get home, rushing to prepare dinner, and before you know it, you’re back at the beginning of the cycle—never pausing once to reflect, let alone meditate.

Despite the fact that a recent surveyfound that 85% of people reported meditation and prayer helped them to effectively manage stress, for some the practice still carries a certain stigma.

“We hear ‘meditation’ and we think we have to sit on the floor with my legs crossed and fingers pinched,” says Keith Kaufman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Alexandria, Virginia. But in reality, people can mediate while they’re walking, commuting, and even working at their desks—without anyone even noticing. It’s called mindfulness meditation, “a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment,” and it’s been linked to physical, psychological, and social benefits, including boosting the immune system, reducing stress, easing depression symptoms, and more, according to The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

“There’s a lot of informal [mindfulness] practice we can do,” Kaufman says. “It sounds so simple, checking in and pausing, but people have a really tough time with it. It’s a major ah-ha moment when people realize they really can pause.”

Mindfulness meditation really is just that: Pausing. Kaufman explains that even 10 seconds is enough time to take a breath (literally!) and, in turn, be more productive in the long run.

By LIZ STEELMAN for RealSimple.com