A study shows that mindfulness exercises can be as effective as anxiety medications
A seven-point scale was used to assess anxiety among the 208 participants, with seven scores representing severe anxiety and one score being normal. In both the medication and alertness groups, the average post-treatment score decreased from a moderate level of anxiety to a moderate level of anxiety.
Both groups began the study with similar baseline scores (4.44 in the mindfulness group and 4.51 in the medication group.) By the end of the study, anxiety scores in both groups had dropped to an average of 3.09 on the anxiety scale, a statistically similar change that showed the treatments to be equally effective.
Mindfulness practices such as breathing exercises have been used to treat anxiety for a long time, but this is the first study to show how effective they are compared to standard treatments for anxiety disorders, said the study’s lead author, Elisabeth Hogg, MD. Psychiatrist and director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Program at Georgetown University.
She believes the findings help support the use of mindfulness as a viable intervention that may be better than conventional therapies for some people, such as those who do not feel comfortable visiting a psychologist or who experience negative side effects from medication.
“We can’t yet predict who will do better with what type of treatment,” Hogg said. “But there’s nothing that says you can’t do both at the same time.”
Breathing, body scanning, alert movement
Mindfulness therapies used in the study included breathing awareness exercises, which involve paying attention to your breath while allowing thoughts to rise, then pass through your mind before letting them go. Most importantly, Hoge said, the practice isn’t about trying to change your breath, but about focusing on your breath as a way to ground yourself if any troubling thoughts arise.
Participants also completed exercises such as body scanning, which involves paying attention to different parts of the body, and mindful movement, which involves stretching the body into different positions and noticing how each movement feels.
Those who received the eight-week mindfulness intervention attended a weekly two-and-a-half-hour class with a mindfulness teacher, completed daily 45-minute at-home exercises, and attended a one-day retreat five or six weeks into the course.
When anxiety becomes a habit
The reason mindfulness helps treat anxiety is because it can interrupt a negative feedback loop in the brain, said Judd Brewer, director of research and innovation at the Center for Mindfulness at Brown University and chief medical officer at Sharecare, a digital health company. Brewer believes that anxiety is a habit driven by negative reinforcement in the brain.
when we have a situation or Thought it triggers our anxiety, worrying about it can be good for the brain, he said. “It can give people a more sense of control even though they don’t have any control than if they didn’t worry,” Brewer said.
He said that trying to stop worrying using willpower doesn’t work, because it doesn’t change the way your brain works. But mindfulness can help train your mind to form new habits because it helps you realize that worrying isn’t rewarding and provides an alternative sense of control that feels better than worrying. Help develop a mental training app called Relax and Anxiety and in a random little picture studythat the use of the application has greatly reduced people’s anxiety.
How mindfulness can change the brain
Other studies have shown that practicing mindfulness can reshape the brain, leading to long-term changes in behavior and thinking, said Sara Lazar, associate professor at Harvard Medical School.
Lazar said that in people who worry a lot, a part of the brain called the default mode network can become overactive, causing their minds to wander toward negative or worrying thoughts more often. But Research Offers She explained that meditation and mindfulness exercises can help turn off this part of the brain and make it less active by training people to refocus.
Vigilance has also been trained Shown To reduce activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain that helps regulate fear, stress and other emotions, she said. And her research suggests that these kinds of changes can be long-lasting.
“People who are on these programs, even if they stop, continue to report benefits months later,” Lazar said. “It’s like learning to ride a bike, even if you stop, you can do it again.”
Controlled by anxious thoughts
Julie Rose, 48, of Provo, Utah, decided to try mindfulness in 2018 when she realized that while medication had helped her anxiety, she needed additional coping strategies. She was finding it difficult to focus on her job as a podcast host and was having trouble sleeping. She said her anxious thoughts “got possession of her,” and trying to control them by ignoring them or redirecting her anxious energy didn’t help.
I signed up for eight weeks of mindfulness classes. At first, she didn’t feel like the breathing exercises or body awareness were working — she still had anxious thoughts and felt like she couldn’t calm them down.
Then after a few weeks, she realized that although she couldn’t stop her anxious thoughts, with meditation, she could identify them with a way she had experienced them. More easy and fast. She said that on the days she meditated, she slept better and felt better in general.
“I thought this was stupid but it really works,” she said. “It allows anxiety to keep moving through me.”
How to practice mindfulness for anxiety
But even doing a few short exercises a few times a week can reduce anxiety, said Catherine Cullen, a licensed psychotherapist with Juniper Therapeutic Services in New York. While many studies on mindfulness involve a more significant investment of time Over the course of eight weeks, Colleen often suggests that her patients start with a simple two-minute breathing exercise a few times a week.
At first, she said, mindfulness exercises may feel uncomfortable, because people are not used to dealing with their own emotions or anxious thoughts.
“Think of it as exercise. You might go for a walk after you’ve been inactive for a while and you might feel uncomfortable.” “The key, as with exercise, is to be consistent about it.”
If someone is interested in trying mindfulness exercises, she advises them not to change their medication without consulting a therapist or psychiatrist, and they should seek out a practitioner or coach certified in mindfulness-based stress reduction, which is an evidence-based form of mindfulness training. People can also try seeking out centers affiliated with the Buddhist organization, the Buddhist Insight Meditation Society, many of which offer donation-based mindfulness classes.
“If you’re new to mindfulness and haven’t done it before, I strongly encourage you to do it with someone else,” Colin said. “It really helps to have someone there to actively walk you through it and answer any questions you might have.”