‘Kindness’ meditation can help people with depression: study


The ancient practice of meditation is known to be helpful in easing challenges such as anxiety and stress, amongst other benefits. Now, a new study has found that it can also help people recall specific memories to combat depression.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE on Wednesday, says that a guided “kindness” meditation practice can help people who’ve struggled with depression to activate their autobiographical memories, resulting in feelings of kindness towards themselves and others.

Kindness meditation is a guided practice where participants visualize different individuals, such as themselves, someone they easily love, a stranger, or someone they find difficult to love. It also involves repeating mantras which encourage happiness, health, loving-kindness and peace to oneself and to others.

Autobiographical memory, which is a person’s memory of episodes or experiences that occurred in their life, is an essential cognitive function for self-concept, emotion regulation, and problem solving.

Meanwhile, those struggling with depression often have disrupted cognitive processes, leading to thoughts of sadness or disinterest in activities which previously brought joy.

“Loving-kindness meditation was shown to improve features of autobiographical memory retrieval in remitted depression which might reduce a cognitive vulnerability to depression,” write the study authors. “The meditation further acted as a buffer for the effects of autobiographical memory when cognitive reactivity was induced.”

The researchers collected data from 50 students at the University of St. Andrews in the U.K., who have had a history with depression. To examine their autobiographical memory, they asked the students to write details of what memories came to mind after the heard specific cue words.

They then split the students in the middle, and asked 25 of them to perform a daily practice proven to reduce anxiety by digitally colouring an image each day.

Meanwhile, the other 25 students learned a kindness meditation practice from a certified instructor on a video call through Microsoft Teams.

They were then asked to meditate for ten minutes every day in order to assess the impacts.

One month later, the researchers looked at the results of each groups and discovered that those who meditated daily were able to remember specific memories better than those in the coloring group.

As more time passed, their positive memories showed to continually improve in specificity and levels of rumination.]

“Addressing these features with this type of intervention might reduce a cognitive vulnerability to depression and should be investigated in future studies,” the study authors write.

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