Could mindfulness be as effective as medication for anxiety?


Mindfulness techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises are often touted as key ways to combat stress and anxiety.

And now, researchers from Georgetown University have reported that a guided mindfulness programme may be as effective as the "gold-standard drug" for treating patients with anxiety disorders.

For the study, Dr Elizabeth Hoge and colleagues recruited over 275 people between 2018 and 2020 and randomly assigned them to either a mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course or escitalopram, which is sold under the brand names Lexapro and Cipralex. Participants' symptoms were assessed after eight, 12, and 24 weeks.

Accordingly, the researchers discovered that both groups found a reduction of approximately 30 per cent in anxious feelings.

"It gave me the tools to spy on myself. Once you have awareness of an anxious reaction, then you can make a choice for how to deal with it," said Olga Cannistraro, who was part of the MBSR group. "It's not like a magic cure, but it was a lifelong kind of training. Instead of my anxiety progressing, it went in the other direction, and I'm very grateful for that."

Looking to the future, Dr Hoge hopes the results can be applied to a variety of scenarios.

"A big advantage of mindfulness meditation is that it doesn't require a clinical degree to train someone to become a mindfulness facilitator. Additionally, sessions can be done outside of a medical setting, such as at a school or community centre," she noted.

Full study results have been published in JAMA Psychiatry.