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Is Meditation Really As Effective As Medication For Anxiety?

Research has just been published that compares the effectiveness of meditation for those with anxiety over the use of more traditional medicinal remedies. This is the first-ever study to directly compare medication to meditation as a treatment for anxiety.

The report findings

The findings of the report, published on November 1st, 2022, in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, suggest that people struggling with anxiety could be helped either by a daily antidepressant tablet or, alternatively, a daily practice of mindfulness. Both have positives and negatives attached to them.

Antidepressants can have various side effects, while mindfulness requires a substantial time commitment.

About 6.8 million adults in the US have a generalized anxiety disorder. However, less than half receive treatment, according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America.

Details of the study

The two-month study carried out by the Anxiety Disorders Research Program at Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, DC, involved 276 patients diagnosed with anxiety disorders.

Half were given a common antidepressant known as escitalopram (with the brand name Lexapro), while the other half participated in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program.

Both groups reported moderate improvements. Both groups indicated a 20% reduction in symptoms at the end of the study, regardless of their treatment type. The levels of benefit seen are consistent with other studies of medications to treat anxiety.

The study shows there are alternative options that don’t involve medicine to help treat anxiety that is just as effective. This research potentially paves the way for a new way of thinking when doctors are considering courses of treatment for patients presenting with anxiety issues.

The impact of side effects

Rather than immediately reaching for their prescription pads, the findings of this research may encourage physicians to explore other options, including those that might offer a course of treatment free from potentially detrimental side effects.

Side effects are generally more common among those who receive antidepressants, and this was observed during the study period. Nearly 80% of the participants that were given antidepressants experienced at least one side effect.

These included trouble sleeping, nausea, headaches, decreased libido, and increased anxiety. Although most of those affected reported mild side effects, these can be eradicated entirely through the use of meditation to treat their anxiety.

Comparing this figure to the group treated with meditation, just one side effect (increased anxiety) was reported. In the mindfulness group, around 15% of the participants reported experiencing this.

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While free from potentially harmful side effects, the mindfulness program was time-consuming. Participants were required to attend twice weekly 150-minute group classes for eight weeks.

In addition to this, they had to commit to a single full day at a meditation retreat. In addition, the participants were told to meditate alone for 45 minutes each day for the entire study period.

Meditation offers a natural alternative

While the benefits of meditation have been known for centuries, doctors have tended to prescribe medicinal solutions to anxiety and depression for decades.

In May 2021, the publication Pharmaceutical Journal reported that the practice of prescribing antidepressants in the United Kingdom had risen by 35% in just six years, from 61.9 million items in 2015/2016 to 83.4 million items in 2021/2022.

This all comes at a cost – whether that cost is borne by the end user, health authorities, or insurance companies.

However, with this latest research, it is hoped that physicians may look more favorably on alternative natural offerings that can have the same desired effect ultimately.

In doing so, the popularity of mindfulness techniques may increase, building on the foundations that have developed through more and more people across many societies engaging in such practices in recent times.

What do you think of this latest research? Would you consider swapping medicines for meditation to treat your anxiety? Let us know in the comments.

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