A new study from Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC) supports healthcare practitioners who want to recommend “mindfulness meditation” to treat patients with anxiety disorders. According to the GUMC study, published in JAMA Psychiatry in November, “mindfulness-based stress reduction was a well-tolerated treatment option” compared to the anti-depressant drug, Escitalopram.
The study’s authors note that meditation is both popular—about 15% of the American public tried meditation in 2017—and recognized for its ability to “reduce anxiety.” However, this is the first time that “standardized mindfulness-based interventions, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR),” were compared in a clinical trial to anti-anxiety drugs, they said.
The trial—Treatments for Anxiety: Meditation and Escitalopram [TAME]—involved 276 adult patients diagnosed with anxiety from three urban US academic medical centers. Some 208 patients completed the eight-week trial.
Participants were randomly offered either Escitalopram or MBSR. The latter was given via two-and-a-half-hour weekly in-person classes, a day-long weekend class during the fifth or sixth week, and forty-five-minute daily home practice exercises.
Participants’ anxiety symptoms were reassessed at the end of the trial, along with assessments at twelve and twenty-four weeks after enrollment. The clinician-evaluators did not know which treatment the participants received.
They found that both treatment groups saw around a 30% drop in the severity of their anxiety.
The study indicates that mindfulness-based stress reduction can be recommended as an effective treatment for anxiety disorders, said Prof. Elizabeth Hoge, MD, director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Program at Georgetown and the study’s first author.
MBSR’s advantages include no drug side effects, easy access to the treatment, and economic benefits. “Mindfulness meditation…doesn’t require a clinical degree to train someone to become a mindfulness facilitator,” said Prof. Hoge. “Additionally, sessions can be done outside of a medical setting, such as at a school or community center.”