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Anxiety Treatment: The Mindfulness Program “As Effective” As Antidepressants

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Anxiety Treatment: The Mindfulness Program "As Effective" As Antidepressants

(CTN NEWS) – A new study suggests that mindfulness meditation works just as well as antidepressants for treating anxiety.

  • Research supports the benefits of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
  • Mindfulness is not a cure-all but it can help promote a sense of calm.

We all worry on occasion, especially when faced with stressful situations. Worry becomes persistent with anxiety disordersTrusted Source, which can affect a person’s daily life in one or more ways.

According to the U.S. Task Force on Preventive Services, approximately 2 in 5 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States will suffer from an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.

Thus, the Task Force recently recommended that physicians screen all children and teens 8 years and older for anxiety and depression in October.

Before that announcement, the Task Force proposed screening for anxiety in adults under 65 – but this recommendation has not yet been adopted.

Anxiety disorders can be managed using many strategies, including medication, psychotherapy, and in some cases, mindfulness meditation, which has been widely praised for its health benefits.

According to a new study, mindfulness meditation may reduce anxiety symptoms just as effectively as antidepressants.

A new study published in JAMA PsychiatryTrusted Source compares mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) with the antidepressant escitalopram for treating anxiety disorders for the first time.

Mindfulness Improves Anxiety Symptoms.

Over 270 people with anxiety disorders were recruited for the study. Diagnoses included:

  • Anxiety disorder (GAD)
  • social anxiety
  • panic disorder
  • agoraphobia

Randomly, participants were assigned to either the MBSR program or the daily use of escitalopram (Lexapro).

MBSR consists of eight 2.5-hour weekly classes, one day-long weekend class, and 45-minute daily home practice exercises.

Participants learned mindfulness techniques, including body scanning, which involves paying attention to one part of the body at a time; mindful movement, which involves paying attention to the body while stretching; and breath awareness.

In both groups, anxiety symptoms decreased by around 30% after 8 weeks. After 3 months and 6 months, symptoms decreased slightly more in both groups.

In the antidepressant group, insomnia, nausea, fatigue, and headaches were the most common adverse effects. Thirteen people in the MBSR group experienced increased anxiety as the only adverse effect.

Most participants completed at least six of the nine MBSR sessions or six weeks of antidepressant use. In contrast, after 6 months, less than one-quarter of those taking escitalopram were still doing regular mindfulness meditation.

There is a limitation to the study in that most participants were females with higher education levels, so the results may not apply to other groups.

Additionally, researchers only compared MBSR to one type of anxiety medication.

Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, director of Georgetown University’s Anxiety Disorders Research Program and associate professor of psychiatry, told Healthline that other antidepressants have similar efficacy as escitalopram.

Therefore, MBSR may be as effective as other antidepressants.

It’s a good ‘1st step’ for Some.

According to Hoge, MBSR could be a reasonable first step for certain people with anxiety, even before taking medication.

“It’s certainly possible for people with anxiety disorders to begin the [MBSR] program if they’re reluctant to take medication.”

However, mindfulness may not be suitable for everyone.

According to Hoge, some participants in the MBSR group did not find the program helpful and asked to take escitalopram instead.

“It appears that different types of people respond favourably to various treatments,” she said.

“The next stage is identifying these individuals so that we can attempt to forecast which treatments may be effective for which individuals.”

Healthline spoke to Moe Gelbart, PhD, director of behavioural health at Torrance Memorial Medical Center in Torrance, CA, who says mindfulness-based practices can benefit many people who practice regularly.

The difficulty of doing meditation every day – which may deter some people from adhering to mindfulness practices – may deter others.

Others, however, may prefer a DIY approach.

“Mindfulness-based practices empower individuals to take charge of their health, rather than relying on someone else – like a physician – to do it for them,” Gelbart said.

However, Gilbert recommended that people seek medical attention if their anxiety symptoms don’t improve or worsen.

“If a person’s anxiety is severe and mindfulness-based exercises aren’t controlling some of their physical symptoms, medication may be helpful,” he said.

Anxiety symptoms should be discussed with your doctor if you are concerned about their impact on your life.

What is mindfulness-based stress reduction?

It involves paying attention to the present and noticing when your mind wanders – without judgment.

A structured 8-week program based on mindfulness meditation, body awareness, and yoga techniques was developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., in the 1970s.

People learn MBSR techniques to help them focus on the present, such as paying attention to their breath, feelings, or thoughts.

Other mindfulness, yoga, and meditation programs, as well as mindfulness apps and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), use these techniques.

The MBSR program is highly structured, with plenty of hands-on experience. These mindfulness techniques are taught and practiced during the weekly sessions. Additionally, they are encouraged to practice at home on their own.

Studies have shown that mindfulness-based interventions can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety rushed Source, improve physical health, reduce chronic pain and stress and boost the immune system trusted Source.

Hoge said mindfulness practices could help people deal with anxiety disorders by changing how they experience their anxious or worrisome thoughts.

Hoge explained that mindfulness allows people to separate themselves from their thoughts so that the thoughts do not overwhelm them.

“There is a difference between this and other forms of meditation, where the focus may be on relaxation. Mindfulness meditation focuses on seeing things as they are, which isn’t necessarily relaxing.”

Tips for Practicing Mindfulness

If people are interested in trying MBSR, Hoge recommends taking a class with a qualified teacher. The training to become an MBSR instructor is highly structured as well.

“When people are in a class together, they are more likely to practice because they have lots of support around them,” she said.

She said that a live online class with other students would probably work just as well as an in-person class.

Some people may not be able to access an MBSR program, whether it is in person or online. You can practice a few basic mindfulness tips independently at home to help calm anxious feelings.

  • Make time for it. You will experience the benefits of mindfulness sooner if you practice mindfulness regularly. Take 5 to 10 minutes every day to get started.
  • Don’t get distracted. Make sure you are in a quiet place that is free from distractions. Put your phone on silent.
  • Keep an eye on the present moment. Mindfulness involves paying attention to what is happening right now without judgment.
  • Focus on an object. A simple breath, sensations in the body, or thoughts can suffice.
  • Take mindful action. It may be easier for some people to practice mindfulness while they walk, wash the dishes, or do another simple task. Focus on the action, such as feeling the earth under your feet as you walk.
  • Keep checking back. When your mind wanders, bring it back to the present moment.
  • Don’t be hard on yourself. If you have trouble staying present, don’t worry. The more you practice mindfulness, the stronger it becomes.

Conclusions

A growing body of evidence has supported mindfulness meditation for anxiety relief.

According to research, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) may be just as effective as antidepressants in treating anxiety.

It is important to note that mindfulness is not a magic bullet and may not work for everyone.

Psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both may provide greater relief from anxiety disorder symptoms in some individuals.

Ask your doctor or mental health professional if mindfulness meditation is right for you and if you’re interested in learning more.

 

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