New research from a randomized clinical trial shows that a 8 week mindfulness meditation plan is just as efficient as the widely used antidepressant Lexapro at reducing anxiety in adults. This study was groundbreaking because it compared a guided mindfulness-based intervention to a standard treatment for anxiety for the first time. One of the main benefits of mindfulness meditation is that anyone can learn to lead meditation sessions without needing a clinical background. It’s also possible to hold sessions in non-clinical locations, like a local school or community center. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder (SAD), panic disorder (PD), and specific phobias are all types of anxiety that are frequently dealt in psychiatric clinics because they raise the likelihood of suicide, disability, and emotional turmoil.
Even though the medications currently used to treat these conditions are proven efficient, many patients struggle to obtain them, do not adapt to them, or cannot tolerate the drugs’ side effects. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and other standardized mindfulness-based interventions have been shown to be effective at reducing anxiety, but until now, they had never been compared to pharmaceutical options. Remarkably, in 2017 about 15% of Americans gave meditation a try.
Between June 2018 and February 2020, the doctors recruited 276 patients from three hospitals in Boston, New York City, and Washington, D.C., and randomly appointed them to either MBSR or escitalopram. 8 weeks of MBSR were provided, each consisting of two and a half hours of in-person instruction, a day-long getaway weekend class sometime around the fifth or sixth week, and daily home independent practice lasting 45 minutes. Anxiety symptoms were measured before patients were enrolled, after 8 weeks of treatment, and again 12 and 24 weeks later to determine the effectiveness of the treatment.
Clinical assessors were blinded to the patients’ treatment conditions, so they had no idea if those being evaluated had obtained the drug or MBSR. 102 participants had finished MBSR by the end of the trial, while 106 had finished their medication. The participants were representative of the U.S. population in that they were mostly young (mean age = 33) and female (75% of participants were female).
The scientists rated the severity of anxiety symptoms across all disorders from 1 to 7 using a validated assessment indicator. From a mean of around 4.5, both groups reported a decrease in their anxiety symptomatology, which equates to a reduction of around 30% in the intensity of people’s anxiety.