Trendy mindfulness practices are as effective as medication at alleviating anxiety, a study has found.
People who meditated every day and did yoga once a week saw their anxious thoughts and feelings ease by almost a third after six weeks.
In the first head-to-head comparison, a second group given Lexapro — which works by boosting ‘happy hormone’ levels in the brain — saw similar results.
Mindfulness is thought to lower levels of the hormone cortisol — nature’s built-in alarm system — in turn reducing inflammation in the body.
There are also no side effects, unlike Lexapro which can cause drowsiness, insomnia and impotence or other sexual problems after prolonged use.
Dr Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatry professor at Georgetown University in Washington DC and first author of the latest study said: ‘A big advantage of mindfulness meditation is that it doesn’t require a clinical degree to train someone to become a mindfulness facilitator.
‘Additionally, sessions can be done outside of a medical setting, such as at a school or community center.’
It comes after a leading panel of doctors recommended all Americans over the age of eight are screened for anxiety — even if they do not have symptoms — amid fears the Covid pandemic has left millions suffering in silence.
In the latest study, 102 patients completed a comprehensive mindfulness program and 106 took the popular antidepressant Lexapro. After two months, people in both groups saw anxiety severity plummet about 30 per cent (file image)
Lexapro works by boosting ‘happy hormone’ levels in the brain
What is mindfulness?
Think of it as fitness for your mind.
Meditation calms the body, thus reducing blood pressure, stress levels and improving all over mood.
The objective of practicing mind-body activities is to use your thoughts to positively impact your body’s physical responses to the outside world.
The practices are part of an overarching wellness trend that has been touted by celebrities and tech giants for years.
These activities include….
The process of focusing one’s breath and focus on a particular thought, object or activity to foster a stable emotional state.
Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present and aware of one’s surroundings.
A common technique is to silently focus on each of the senses in turn.
Pilates and yoga
They involve breathwork and coordinated, concentrated movement.
Both low-impact exercises, they improve strength, flexibility and posture.
In yoga, you adopt positions and hold them, or flow into a different position.
Pilates sees people adopting positions and then working their core muscles by moving their arms or legs.
Qigong, tai chi
Martial arts which promotes physical fitness as well as mental discipline.
Qigong and tai chi are traditional self-healing exercises originating from ancient China.
They feature coordinated movements focused on body posture, deep breathing and mental focus.
Qigong can include movement or simply sitting or standing mediation.
Tai chi, on the other hand, involves complex and choreographed movements that match one’s breath.
Researchers at Georgetown recruited more than 200 patients from three cities.
Participants either a starter dose of Lexapro or follow a widely used mindfulness program that includes two and a half hours of classes weekly, 45 minutes of daily practice at home, as well as a day-long retreat weekend class around week five or six.
After two months, anxiety symptoms as measured on a severity scale declined by about 30 per cent in both groups and continued to decrease during the subsequent four months.
The study was published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry
The eight-week program that some of the participants adhered to was called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), which dates back to the 1970s and entails mindfulness meditation, body scanning and simple yoga postures.
Mindfulness has become a broad term that encompasses a range of activities meant to bolster a person’s emotional health, including meditation, yoga, tai chi and other low-impact marital arts, and breathing exercises.
The objective of practicing mind-body activities is to identify and remedy poor behavior patterns as well as regulate emotions, decrease stress, temper anxiety, and alleviate symptoms of depression.
Anxiety is intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. It often leads to a rapid heart rate, fast breathing, sweating, and feeling exhausted.
Over 40 million US adults, about 19 per cent, live with an anxiety disorder, making it the most common mental health problem in the country.
When engaging in mindfulness exercises, people are advised to pay attention to any intrusive thoughts that come in and bat them away, refocusing energy on the breath and the body, according to Dr Hoge.
Rather than dwell on those intrusive thoughts, ‘you say, “I’m having this thought, let that go for now,’’’ Dr Hoge said.
With practice, ‘It changes the relationship people have with their own thoughts when not meditating.’
Olga Cannistraro, a 52-year-old who participated in a previous study with Dr Hoge, said the program has helped her considerably: ‘It gave me the tools to spy on myself. Once you have awareness of an anxious reaction, then you can make a choice for how to deal with it.
It’s not like a magic cure, but it was a life-long kind of training. Instead of my anxiety progressing, it went in the other direction and I’m very grateful for that.’
A mounting body of scientific research points to the mental and physical benefits of mindfulness practice.
A metaanalysis from 2014 reviewed 47 trials involving meditation among 3,515 people. The practice was associated with ‘moderate evidence’ of lowered stress, anxiety and depression in eight weeks.
Mindfulness has also shown to be effective in lowering blood pressure. A recent study conducted by Brown University researchers concluded that people with elevated BP who followed a mindfulness program for six months saw a drop of nearly six points in their systolic blood pressure – the top number in a blood reading.
People in the control group who received the normal cours of care consisting of a home blood pressure monitor, blood pressure education material, and access to a physician saw a decline of just 1.4 points.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Dailymail.co.uk