DEPRESSION
January 13, 2014

Don't Medicate, Meditate

Many find meditation seems to work as well as medication when it comes to anxiety, moderate depression, and chronic pain.

“Serenity now! Serenity now!” Many Seinfeld fans, and likely a few others, have invoked that mantra when dealing with a flat tire, computer crash, misbehaving kid or other stressful life event.

These chanters may be on to something, according to a new study from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Meditation is not generally considered a mainstream medical treatment. However, the study found that meditation can relieve moderate symptoms of anxiety and depression about as well as antidepressants. And there is no risk of side effects.

Doctors should be prepared to talk with their patients about the value of meditation programs in addressing psychological stress, particularly when symptoms are mild.

“A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing,” lead author on the study, Madhav Goyal says. “But that's not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”

The researchers reviewed the findings on 3500+ people across 47 clinical trials who had either a psychiatric or physical condition such as depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, substance use, diabetes, heart disease, cancer and chronic pain and who also underwent what was typically an eight-week training program in mindfulness meditation.

When people spent about 30 minutes per day on mindfulness meditation, which emphasizes non-judgmental self awareness of the mind and body, it moderately reduced their levels of anxiety, depression, and pain.

“I think people should be aware that the average person going through a meditation program can expect small to moderate reductions of multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress, as well as for chronic pain,” Goyal told The Doctor.

Doctors should be prepared to talk with their patients about the value of meditation programs in addressing psychological stress, particularly when symptoms are mild, Goyal believes.

Various mindfulness practices focus on different aspects of self awareness, such as awareness of the breath, thoughts, and bodily sensations, Goyal adds. Online and even in small towns you can now find programs such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).

Although the research team noted that mindfulness programs provide some pain relief, they don't yet know what kinds of pain it might be most helpful for, and whether different amounts of mindfulness training may have different effects.

The group is planning to continue its work by studying the effects of mindful meditation on headache pain to better answer these questions.

The study is published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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