MNon-adherence meditation as well as standard anxiety medication succeeded in a first head-to-head comparison.
The study tested a widely used mindfulness program that includes two and a half hours of weekly classes and 45 minutes of daily training at home. Participants were randomly assigned to either the program or daily use of a generic drug sold under the brand name Lexapro for depression and anxiety.
After two months, anxiety as measured on the severity scale decreased by about 30% in both groups and continued to decline over the next four months.
Results , Published Wednesday in the magazine Gamma PsychiatryAnd the right on time. In September, an influential US health task force recommended routine anxiety screening for adults, and several reports indicate increased global anxiety rates recently, regarding concerns about the pandemic, political and racial turmoil, climate change and financial uncertainties.
Anxiety disorders include social anxiety, generalized anxiety, and panic attacks. Affected people are disturbed by persistent and intrusive fears that interfere with their lives and relationships. In the United States, anxiety disorders affect 40% of American women at some point in their lives and more than 1 in 4 men, according to data cited in the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Examination Recommendations.
Mindfulness is a form of meditation that focuses only on what is happening at the moment and rejects intrusive thoughts. Sessions often begin with breathing exercises. It might be the next “body scan– Think about each part of the body systematically, from head to toe. When disturbing thoughts intrude, participants learn to acknowledge them briefly and then ignore them.
Instead of ruminating on worrying thoughts, she says, “I have this idea, let it go now.” With practice, “it changes the relationship people have with their thoughts when they are not meditating.”
Previous studies have shown that mindfulness works better than no treatment or at least education or formal behavioral therapy in reducing anxiety, depression, and other mental problems. But this is the first study to test it against a psychiatric drug, Hogg said, and the results could make insurance companies more likely to cover the costs, which can range from $300 to $500 for an 8-week session.
The results were based on nearly 200 adults who completed the six-month study at medical centers in Washington, Boston and New York. The researchers used a psychological scale of 1 to 7, with the higher number reflecting severe anxiety. The mean score was about 4.5 for the participants before starting treatment. It dropped to about 3 after two months, and then decreased slightly in both groups at three and six months. Hogg said the change was clinically meaningful, resulting in marked improvement in symptoms.
Ten patients withdrew from the drug due to troublesome side effects that might be associated with the treatment, including insomnia, nausea and fatigue. There were no dropouts for this reason in the wakefulness group, although 13 patients reported increased anxiety.
Dr. Scott Krakauer, a psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in New York, said mindfulness therapies often work best for patients with mild anxiety. He prescribes them medications for patients who suffer from severe anxiety.
He noted that many people feel they do not have time for mindful meditation, especially in-person sessions such as those studied. Krakauer, who was not involved in the study, said whether similar results would be found with online training or mobile apps is unknown.
Olga Cannistraro, a freelance writer in Keene, New Hampshire, participated in a previous mental study led by Hogg and said it taught her to “interfere with my state of mind.”
During the session, she said, just acknowledging that she was feeling stress anywhere in her body helped calm her.
Cannistraro, 52, suffered from generalized anxiety disorder and never took any medication for it. A single mother working in sales during that previous study – conditions that made life particularly stressful, she said. She has since married, changed her job, and is less anxious even though she still uses mindfulness techniques.
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