Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health concern in the United States. Over 40 million adults in the U.S. (19.1%) have an anxiety disorder. Some studies show that approximately 33.7 percent of (3 in every 10) Americans will have an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives.
The go-to treatment for anxiety disorders in the past has been to take a pill. Adding psychotherapy can also be helpful; but have you tried to book an appointment with a mental health professional lately? If you weren’t already anxious, the waiting time should get you going. Many people drop out of the wait-line and those who do finally get standard treatment don’t always respond.
That’s why a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry could have a huge impact. The study has found that mindfulness and meditation can be just as effective as taking a pill, in this case, the common antidepressant escitalopram.
The researchers studied 276 adults with anxiety disorders and randomly offered them either 8-week treatment with mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) or the SSRI antidepressant escitalopram. Of patients who started treatment, 10 (8%) dropped out of the escitalopram group and none from the MBSR group due to adverse events. At least 1 study-related adverse event occurred for 110 participants randomized to escitalopram (78.6%) and 21 participants randomized to MBSR (15.4%).
The study group was very diverse. The mean age was 33 years. Of the total participants, 156 participants (75%) were female; 32 participants (15%) were African American, 41 (20%) were Asian, 18 (9%) were Hispanic/Latino, 122 (59%) were White, and 13 (6%) were of another race or ethnicity (including Native American or Alaska Native, more than one race.
This randomized clinical trial comparing a standardized evidence-based mindfulness-based intervention with the commonly used antidepressant escitalopram for the treatment of anxiety disorders found that MBSR was as good as escitalopram. The implications of this are huge, especially for midlife women in whom one of the most common menopause symptoms is anxiety and for the working woman struggling with menopause symptoms, anxiety also is extremely common.
- Almost everyone can learn to use MBSR
- Noone dropped out of the MBSR group vs 8 percent dropping out of the escitalopram group
- MBSR has virtually no side effects though it does take time to do (possible side effects of escitalopram include headache, nausea, diarrhea, dry mouth, increased sweating, feeling nervous, restless, fatigue, or having trouble sleeping (insomnia). These will often improve over the first week or two. But the side-effects are how a person might feel when they are anxious.)
- Once you learn how to do MBSR there is no cost to keep doing it
- You don’t have to taper off MBSR (escitalopram withdrawal symptoms can be severe, particularly if you attempt to stop abruptly. The dosage should be slowly tapered down over time under the guidance of medical professionals to help prevent or reduce any withdrawal symptoms.)
This study offers important evidence…if you’re feeling anxious, meditate, don’t medicate! MBSR seems as effective as an SSRI.