Meditation Rivals Medication for Depression

Want a free, easy tip for reducing anxiety, depression and pain without medications? Try meditation.

New research finds that meditation may be equally as effective as antidepressants in helping to reduce anxiety, depression and pain, according to a review of studies published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

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Researchers reviewed 47 randomized clinical trials with 3,515 participants and found that mindfulness meditation improved symptoms of depression by 10 to 20 percent and symptoms of anxiety by 5 to 10 percent. “This is fairly comparable to what other studies have found for antidepressants in similar populations,” says study author Madhav Goyal, M.D., of  Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. And, he adds, meditation doesn’t come with the side effects of medications.

The focus of mindfulness meditation is to pay attention to the present moment without worrying about the past or future.Woman meditating

For the study, the researchers combed through thousands of studies on meditation and chose only randomized controlled studies – the gold standard of medical research – for analysis. Goyal said scientists don’t yet understand why meditation might reduce anxiety and depression but speculated “it could be that mindfulness programs teach individuals to reduce the way they react to negative emotions or symptoms.” He added that “it was surprising to see that with so little training [2.5 hours a week over eight weeks] we were still seeing consistent effects.”

This study builds on previous research that has showed that meditation can lower heart attack risk, reduce stress hormones, combat loneliness in older people, ease caregiver stress and protect the aging brain. This analysis found that meditation does not appear to help with substance abuse, sleep or weight loss.

Shelley Carson, Ph.D., a Harvard research psychologist and coauthor of Almost Depressed, said mindfulness meditation can be a powerful tool in dealing with symptoms of depression. “Mindfulness meditation is a way of spending time inside yourself nonjudgmentally,” she said. “You are calming your inner self.”

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For those new to meditation, here are a few tips, from her book, on how to get started.

  1. Sit in an erect posture, either on a straight-backed chair or on the floor on a cushion.
  2. Allow the body to become still; just bring your attention to the fact that you are breathing.
  3. Breathe through your nose. Become aware of the movement of the breath as it comes in and out of your body. Do not try to change your breathing; just be aware of it.
  4. Observe your breathing deep in your belly, feeling the abdominal wall as it expands gently on the in-breath and as it falls back toward your spine on the out-breath.
  5. Allow yourself to be in the moment – not trying to do anything, not trying to get anyplace, simply being with your breathing.


Try to stay in this mode for at least five minutes. For more help, play or download free guided meditations from the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center here.

Photo: mediaphotos/iStock

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