Meditation May Help Reduce Anxiety and Depression
Interesting news in the world of complementary and alternative medicine: According to a systematic review and meta-analysis in Jama Internal Medicine, mindfulness meditation may improve symptoms of anxiety and depression — in the case of depression, possibly to the same degree as taking antidepressants.
Based on the studies the researchers reviewed, “[w]e had moderate confidence that mindfulness [meditation] improves symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain across a wide range of patients,” lead author Mahdav Goyal, M.D., M.P.H., told SELF.
“That mindfulness has a small but consistent effect on symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain is noteworthy,” Dr. Goyal adds. “This is an effect above and beyond a placebo effect. Patients can expect improvements in these symptoms from training in mindfulness, and can use this in conjunction with any other treatments they are taking [or using]. Furthermore, this does not come with any known side effects or harms [as do] pills.”
But that doesn’t mean that meditation is a mental health cure-all, Dr. Goyal stresses: While we’ve heard a lot of talk about how mindfulness can help you reduce stress, sleep trouble and bad eating habits, this review did not find data that any type of meditation helped with those issues.
“It could be that the [studies] were looking at such small ‘doses’ or amounts of training that participants didn’t develop the skill levels they needed to change these outcomes,” Dr. Goyal says. “Or it could be that that these programs really don’t have any effect on other outcomes. We couldn’t tell, and further research is needed to help clarify.”
And here’s the catch about mindfulness meditation: It can be incredibly powerful (anything that affects depression like an antidepressant has to be!) but you have to learn to do it right — it’s not just about closing your eyes for five minutes, trying to relax and reflecting on your day, Dr. Goyal says.
“It is really a skill that needs to be learned in an appropriate environment through an experienced teacher,” he says. “We should keep in mind that the forms of meditation that were tested are all derived from Eastern traditions. In the context of these traditions, meditation was not meant to be a quick fix for any health problems. Rather, it is a path one travels to improve our awareness, and gain insight into our lives. This insight is the most important reason to meditate, and the health effects are really a side benefit of gaining this insight.”
If you’re up for the challenge, we’d suggest starting with a resource to learn more about mindfulness meditation and find an instructor.