Mindfulness program can treat anxiety as effectively as antidepressants

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A groundbreaking study shows that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is “as effective” as the antidepressant escitalopram in reducing anxiety symptoms. Miles Studio/Stocksy
  • Anxiety disorders affect millions of people worldwide.
  • Treatments for anxiety disorders include medications and psychotherapy. Although effective, these options are not always accessible or appropriate for some people.
  • Preliminary evidence suggests that mindfulness can reduce symptoms of anxiety. Yet no studies have looked at how its effectiveness compares to antidepressant medications used to treat anxiety disorders.
  • Now, a first-of-its-kind study has found that mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is “as effective” as the antidepressant escitalopram in reducing symptoms of anxiety.
  • The researchers suggest that their findings provide evidence that MBSR is a well-tolerated and effective treatment for anxiety disorders.

Anxiety is a natural emotion triggered by fear or worry about perceived danger. However, when the anxiety is severe and interferes with daily functioning, it may meet diagnostic criteria for an anxiety disorder.

Data suggests that anxiety disorders affected approximately 301 million people around the world in 2019.

Treatments for anxiety include medications and psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Although effective, some people may not be comfortable with these options or may not have access to them, leaving some people anxious to seek alternatives.

According to a 2021 research reportPreliminary evidence suggests that mindfulness – specifically mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) – can have a positive impact on anxiety and depression.

Still, it’s unclear whether mindfulness-based therapies are as effective as medication for treating anxiety.

Now, a new randomized clinical trial (RCT) from Georgetown University Medical Center has found that an 8-week guided MBSR program was just as effective at reducing anxiety as escitalopram (brand name Lexapro) – a common antidepressant medication. .

“This is the first study comparing MBSR to a drug for the treatment of anxiety disorders,” the study author said. Dr. Elizabeth Hogedirector of the anxiety disorders research program and associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, DC, said Medical News Today.

The study was published Nov. 9 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Scientists at Georgetown University Medical Center recruited 276 participants between June 2018 and February 2020 to conduct the randomized clinical trial.

Participants ranged in age from 18 to 75, with an average age of 33. Before the start of the study, they were diagnosed with one of the following anxiety disorders:

The research team used a validated rating scale to measure participants’ anxiety symptoms during recruitment and divided them into two groups. One group took escitalopram and the other participated in the MBSR program.

“MBSR is the most studied mindfulness intervention and has been standardized and tested extensively with good results,” Dr. Hoge explained.

“MBSR Instructors teach mindfulness in a group, face-to-face class using a variety of guided meditation exercises such as breath awareness, body scanning and gentle movement meditation, and also contains group discussions and question and answer periods.. MBSR consists of weekly 2.5 hour classes, a weekend “day retreat” class during the 5th or 6th week and 45-minute daily home exercises The home practice is a guided meditation with audio recordings.

– Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, lead author of the study

At the end of the 8-week trial, 102 participants completed the MBSR program and 106 took the drug as directed.

After the research team reassessed the participant’s anxiety symptoms, they found that both groups experienced about a 30% reduction in the severity of their symptoms.

Given their findings, the study authors suggest that MBSR is a well-tolerated treatment option with similar efficacy to commonly used medication for anxiety disorders.

A previous Longitudinal study 2021 found that mindfulness predicted lower levels of depression, anxiety, and social impairment in people working in emergency rooms. These positive effects were strongest for anxiety, followed by depression and social impairment.

Yet it remains unclear why mindfulness is effective in reducing anxiety.

“We believe MBSR could have helped with anxiety, as anxiety disorders are often characterized by problematic habitual thought patterns such as worry, and mindfulness meditation helps people live out their thoughts. ‘a different way,’ Dr Hoge said.

“In other words, practicing mindfulness helps people see thoughts as thoughts and not overidentify with them or become overwhelmed by them.”

MBSR is not the only mindfulness approach used in therapy. Other types include:

Peggy LooPh.D., New York-licensed psychologist and director of Manhattan Therapy CollectiveTold DTM:

“There are many types of mindfulness interventions for anxiety, but I frequently use ones that help someone focus on their breath and their body so they can slow down and then manage their anxiety successfully. I also differentiate mindfulness from relaxation strategies with my patients in therapy.

Loo explained that mindfulness is a precursor to treating anxiety through relaxation strategies “because if you’re not aware of how anxiety is affecting you, you won’t respond in helpful ways.”

“I use diaphragmatic breathing, body scanning and grounding via the five senses. They can definitely be as effective as medication when used correctly because they impact the part of your nervous system responsible for the fight or flight response.

– Peggy Loo, Ph.D., licensed psychologist

For people seeking treatments for anxiety other than medication or psychotherapy, the study results support MBSR as a possible option.

“Based on the results of this study, physicians can recommend MBSR as a possible treatment strategy for patients with anxiety disorders, which appears to work as well as an antidepressant,” Dr. Hoge said.

“Furthermore, the study results would support the reimbursement of MBSR by insurance companies, so that patients do not have to pay out of pocket, since MBSR has drug-like efficacy, which they pay.”

Nevertheless, the study had some limitations.

For example, the participants were mostly women with a higher level of education. Additionally, participant recruitment was limited to three urban academic medical centers.

Additionally, Dr. Hoge noted that the study did not test other medications used for anxiety.

“Since other antidepressants have similar efficacy to escitalopram, MBSR may be as effective as other drugs,” Dr. Hoge said.

According to Dr. Hoge, future investigations could include determining who benefits the most from MBSR or the drugs.

“We can [also] looking at different variables such as psychological factors or age etc to see if we can see what kind of people are more likely to benefit from MBSR versus benefiting from an antidepressant so doctors can help patients decide which treatments to try,” Dr. Hoge said.

While new research supports mindfulness as an effective treatment option for people living with an anxiety disorder, those considering MBSR to help them cope with their symptoms should speak with their healthcare professional to determine if it is right for them. agrees.

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