If you suffer with anxiety, you’re not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness in the United States. Over 3 million people are affected by general anxiety disorder alone – roughly 3 percent of the nation’s population. The ADAA reports that another 15 million people suffer with social anxiety, and millions more suffer with other forms of anxiety, such as PTSD, OCD, and specific phobias.
The most common treatments for anxiety are medication and psychotherapy. But new research shows that there may be an even better way to help combat anxiety — and you don’t even need to leave your house to try it. Mindfulness meditation, as its called, has been shown to help treat anxiety.
The science behind mindfulness mediation
Researchers from the Georgetown University Medical Center recently published their study on the effects of mediation on anxiety in the journal Psychiatry Research. The team found that just eight weeks of mindfulness mediation could provide significant benefit to people suffering with anxiety.
Eighty-nine people who struggle with general anxiety disorder were selected to participate in the study. The participants were divided into two groups. One group was placed in an eight-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course that focused on meditation, and were then asked to determine if it helped them to relax.
The other group participated in a stress management course for the same duration of time, and were also asked to determine if the class helped them to relax. The stress management course focused more on habits such as eating patterns, sleep, and overall wellness.
The study subjects were also required to undergo a Trier Social Stress Test prior to the study’s onset, and again at its conclusion. The Trier Social Stress Test is commonly used to induce a stress response. Participants are asked to give a speech in front of a large group of people with no prior notice — which is an extremely anxiety-provoking experience for most people.
The researchers found that the mindfulness mediation group exhibited a substantial reduction in stress when undergoing the test the second time around. Their levels of stress-related hormones and cell-signaling proteins had dropped dramatically when they gave their surprise speech at the study’s conclusion. Conversely, the stress management group appeared to be more stressed out when giving their second speech.
In a press release, the study’s lead author Elizabeth A. Hoge, MD — who is also an associate professor at Georgetown University Medical Center’s Department of Psychiatry — explained, “We were testing the patients’ resilience, because that’s really the ultimate question — can we make people handle stress better?”
“Mindfulness meditation training is a relatively inexpensive and low-stigma treatment approach, and these findings strengthen the case that it can improve resilience to stress,” Hoge added.
Previous data indicates mindfulness meditation works, too
This recent study is not the first to point towards meditation as a means of treating anxiety. A 2010 meta-analysis of 39 different studies featuring over 1,000 patients also found that mindfulness-based therapies were effective at treating anxiety — and other mental health issues like depression.
The analysis, led by researchers from Boston University, found that the benefits of mindfulness-based therapies were “robust,” and that the benefits were maintained throughout study follow-ups. In their abstract, the team concluded, “These results suggest that mindfulness-based therapy is a promising intervention for treating anxiety and mood problems in clinical populations.”
A 2009 study out of Harvard University also reached similar conclusions about mindfulness meditation. In that study, participants had not been diagnosed with any form of anxiety, but the researchers still noted that participating in eight weeks of meditation classes correlated with reduced activity levels in the portion of the brain that stimulates stress.
Overall, it looks like mindfulness meditation is a healthy and natural way to relieve stress and anxiety.