Mindfulness meditation reduces anxiety as much as common antidepressants: study

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Mindfulness meditation is as effective at reducing anxiety as a commonly prescribed antidepressant, according to a study published Wednesday in a major journal.

The study, led by researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center, is the first randomized clinical trial to compare the effectiveness of mindfulness meditation with the antidepressant escitalopram. The results were published in JAMA Psychiatry, a peer-reviewed journal.

Adult participants in the mindfulness group practiced daily 45-minute meditations using a few different techniques they learned in weekly classes. They also participated in one-day weekend retreats.

Meditation techniques included breath awareness; the body scan, in which attention is directed to one part of the body at a time; and conscious movement, in which stretching and movement draw attention to the body.

Participants in the antidepressant group received 10 mg of escitalopram daily for the first week, then took 20 mg daily for the rest of the study if the pill was well tolerated. There were 102 patients in the mindfulness group and 106 in the antidepressant group. Escitalopram is sold under the brand names Lexapro and Cipralex, among others.

After following both groups for eight weeks, the researchers found that people using mindfulness meditation saw their anxiety improve almost as much as people taking the antidepressant.

Dr Elizabeth Hoge, lead author of the study, said the findings support doctors recommending mindfulness meditation as an alternative to antidepressants for some patients. Many people worry that antidepressants will interfere with their daily life, and others start taking medication but stop.

Hoge, who is director of Georgetown University’s anxiety disorders research program, said the study also provides evidence for insurers to cover mindfulness meditation as a treatment for anxiety.

Anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness, affecting around 301 million people worldwide, according to a study published in February in Lancet Psychiatry.

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