Guest post by sponsorship participant Sheridan Ruth.
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It’s believed that about 5% of adults worldwide suffer from depression and at least 4% suffer from an anxiety disorder.
Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Anxiety disorders can affect everything from physical health to social wellbeing. The rates of both of these potentially debilitating mental health conditions are on the rise and, in individuals with alopecia, they’re even more prevalent.
Like alopecia, there is no cure for depression and anxiety. However, these conditions can be treated in a variety of ways, including pharmacologically, with various types of therapy, or with more holistic, alternative treatments.
Among those holistic and alternative treatments is meditation, which is quickly gaining recognition as a powerful tool for coping with mental health conditions, specifically, anxiety and depression.
Alopecia, Anxiety and Depression
Although alopecia doesn’t cause mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, these kinds of conditions are more common in individuals with alopecia than in the general population.
Individuals with alopecia are at an elevated risk for developing anxiety disorders or experiencing a serious depressive episode. There are many reasons this might occur.
Scalp hair is tied up with concepts of beauty, youth, virility, and femininity. Not having scalp hair, then, can feel like a failure to confirm to societal norms regarding physical appearance. It’s therefore unsurprising that individuals with alopecia tend to feel socially rejected.
Hairloss is especially an issue for women. Approximately 40% of women who have alopecia report that it’s caused marital problems and 63% claim that it’s caused career problems. This may be associated with the lower levels of self esteem and poorer body image in individuals with alopecia.
Of course, the loss of hair in and of itself is a loss. For this reason, it’s normal to experience grief. But when that grief persists and comes along with deep sadness and a loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities, it can quickly move into the realm of depression.
People with alopecia may also experience bullying from external sources. This can further compound the feelings of shame, isolation, and difference that contribute to anxiety and depression.
4 Ways Meditation Affects an Anxious/Depressed Mind
Meditation has a tangible and positive impact on both anxiety and depression. A regular practice can lead to material changes in the brain and its functions. Below are 4 specific ways that meditation affects an anxious or depressed mind.
1. Calming the mind
The DMN consists of different parts of the brains that interact when an individual isn’t focused on the outside world. In other words, this is where out minds go when they’re wandering. It’s where we worry about the future and ruminate about the past.
An overly active DMN is associated with unhappiness. Indeed, people with depression have a hyperactive DMN.
But meditation can quiet the DMN and, in turn, reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. In fact, long-term meditators are able to take themselves out of the DMN better than those who do not practice meditation.
2. Regulating Fear, Stress, and Anxiety
The amygdala is the part of the brain that processes fear, stress, and anxiety. This is where our fight or flight response comes from.
Animals also have this part of the brain. Researchers have found that animals who face significant stress and anxiety in their lives are more likely to have a highly developed amygdala. This suggests that there’s a correlation between exposure to fear, stress, and anxiety and a more robust amygdala.
What some research has found is that mindfulness meditation reduces the size of the amygdala. Researchers believe that this is the result of a reduction in stress.
3. Strengthening the Pre-Frontal Cortex
Meditation not only reduces the size of the fear, stress, and anxiety processor, it also increases the thickness of the pre-frontal cortex. This part of our brain is where “higher order” brain functions originate. That is, this is where our awareness, concentration, and decision-making skills live.
With more meditation, the connections in this part of the brain grow stronger. Individuals become better able to access higher order brain functions, especially in times of stress.
4. Improved Emotional Regulation, Perspective Taking, and Self-Reference
If we’re talking about scientific research into the effects of meditation on the brain, we would be remiss not to mention the work of Harvard-based neuroscientist Sara Lazar. Lazar’s work has shown numerous physical changes to the brain as the result of meditation.
Her work has shown that meditation has the potential to change gray matter concentration, the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporoparietal junction (TPJ), and the cerebellum. These areas are related to emotional regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking, which are all areas in which people with depression and anxiety struggle.
How to Get Started
Be patient with yourself and recognize that meditation is a practice. It takes time and consistent effort in order to realize the benefits. However, Lazar’s work showed significant changes in the brains of her participants in as little as 8 weeks – so it doesn’t take more than a few months to start seeing changes from a meditation practice.
The most important things to note in terms of where to start have to do with the amount of time you sit, how often you sit, and what resources you use to make meditation enjoyable. For in-depth information on all of these and more, be sure to check out our 5 Tips to Start Meditating article.
Sheridan Ruth shares this information from what she has learned through her meditation practice and studies, sponsored by our Sponsorship Program. If you have a form of Alopecia Areata, are a resident of Australia you could also receive support for your passions and hobbies. Learn more about the sponsorship program here.
About the author
Sheridan is a world traveler, women’s empowerment advocate, yogi, and Yoga Therapist. She supports women with hair loss to feel more self-acceptance, step into their true power, and radiate confidence. Sheridan supports women at various stages of their journey, who share one common goal – transforming their hair loss journey into a self-empowering, spiritual journey.
Since losing her hair at 7 years old, Sheridan battled the ups and downs of hair loss for most of her life. Brought to the yoga mat by her own mental health afflictions, Sheridan was once unsure about what to do and where to go, completely disconnected from her reality and her body. Today she is motivated to assist others in moving past their own entrenched traumas and self-confidence issues through the practice of yoga. She accomplishes this through a deep understanding and constant study of the connection between mind and body and uniting the esoteric teachings of this ancient practice with valuable, evidence-based western sciences such as psychology.
Sheridan has completed her 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training Certificate in Power Yoga and Healing Sequence and completed a certificate in Yoga Therapy & Yoga Psychology, all while building her women-centered non-profit in Medellin, Colombia.
She now exclusively serves the hair-loss community, creating safe spaces for her community to dive deep into self-inquiry, reconcile with their bodies, and connect with a sense of grounded confidence. Her calm but energetically powerful teaching style creates a safe and loving space in which to grow and ultimately encourages a better relationship with your physical and spiritual bodies, greater awareness, and a profound sense of self-love.