Nov. 10, 2022 -- In the battle against anxiety, could meditation be as beneficial as a popular medication? That was the question posed by researchers in a study published this week in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

They found that an intense, 8-week program of mindfulness meditation brought the same 20% reduction in severe anxiety symptoms as the prescription drug escitalopram, the generic name for Lexapro. 

In the study, 276 adults with untreated anxiety disorders were separated into two groups. One group received a daily dose of Lexapro of 10 to 20 milligrams. The other group had weekly mindfulness classes that lasted 2 ½ hours each; 45 minutes of daily meditation homework for 8 weeks; and a day-long retreat around week five.

The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) “teaches participants to focus on their breath and attention to one body part at a time to see how it feels, and encourages them to try to focus on what is happening now, rather than the past or the future,” National Public Radio reported.

It suggests a way to look at their negative thoughts with less judgment, Elizabeth Hoge, MD, director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Program at Georgetown University Medical Center, told NPR.

"Somebody with anxiety tends to worry about bad things that may happen, like failing an exam," she says. "When the thought comes up, then the person can learn to experience that as just a thought, not the truth or anything that needs to be acted on." 

Most participants were single, well-educated white women with full-time jobs. Not everyone can afford the time or expense of such a program. And taking a casual course or using an app probably won’t give the same results.

The point isn’t to replace pills with meditation, the researchers said. Instead, they hope to suggest new forms of therapy that can be widely given and covered by insurance.


Show Sources

NPR: “Meditation works as well as a popular drug to reduce anxiety, study finds.”

JAMA Psychiatry: “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Escitalopram for the Treatment of Adults With Anxiety Disorders.”

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