Mindfulness as Effective for Treating Anxiety as Popular Drug

Research suggests that an eight-week guided mindfulness-based stress reduction program was as effective as the use of the common antidepressant escitalopram.

A randomized clinical trial led by researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center included 208 participants. They were relatively young, with a mean age of 33, and most of them (156) were women, who are generally more affected by anxiety disorders than men.

In eight weeks, 106 patients completed their escitalopram course, and 102 completed the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program. They attended 2 1/2-hour in-person classes weekly and had 45-minute daily home practice exercises. During the 5th or 6th week, they took a daylong retreat weekend class.

The participants rated the severity of their symptoms using a scale of 1 to 7 (with 7 being severe anxiety). Both groups saw a 30% drop in the severity of their anxiety symptoms.

“Our study provides evidence for clinicians, insurers, and health care systems to recommend, include and provide reimbursement for mindfulness-based stress reduction as an effective treatment for anxiety disorders because mindfulness meditation currently is reimbursed by very few providers,” says Elizabeth Hoge, MD, director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Program and associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown and the study’s first author.

Researchers believe that the virtual delivery of the MBSR program via videoconference is likely to be effective as long as it contains the “live” components, such as question-and-answer periods and group discussions. However, the study authors do not know if phone apps that offer guided meditation work as well as the full in-person, weekly group class experience.

Authors of the study, findings of which were published in the JAMA Psychiatry, note that drugs for anxiety disorders can be very effective, but not everyone has easy access to them. In addition, some people do not respond to them, or the side effects, such as nausea, sexual dysfunction, and drowsiness, discourage patients from continuing the treatment.

An estimated 40 million (19.1%) US adults suffer from an anxiety disorder, which includes generalized anxiety, social anxiety (GAD), panic disorder, and fear of certain places or situations, including crowds and public transportation.

GAD, which affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the US population, usually involves a persistent feeling of anxiety or dread, which can interfere with daily life and may last for months, if not years. The symptoms of GAD include feeling restless, wound-up, or on edge, being easily fatigued, experiencing unexplained aches and pains, and having difficulty controlling feelings of worry, among others.

Those with panic disorder experience frequent and unexpected panic attacks, which are sudden periods of intense fear, discomfort, or a sense of losing control. Panic attacks may happen even if there is no apparent trigger or danger.

Social anxiety disorder is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others. The physical symptoms of this disorder may include blushing, sweating, or trembling, pounding or racing heart, and stomachaches.

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