Could treatment of depression and anxiety symptoms really be as simple as creating a 30-minute daily mindfulness habit? According to a large research review, daily meditation may be as effective as antidepressants for people with anxiety and depression.
American researchers discovered that people who participated in 30 minutes of daily meditation showed a 5 to 10 per cent reduction in anxiety symptoms and a 10 to 20 per cent improvement in depression compared to people in placebo groups.
"A lot of people use meditation, but it's not a practice considered part of mainstream medical therapy for anything," says Dr. Madhav Goyal, lead author and medical professor at Johns Hopkins University. "But in our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants."
The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, examined 47 randomized controlled clinical trials with a total of 3,515 adults who participated in a meditation group (either mindfulness or mantra) or enrolled in another treatment, like exercise.
Most of the benefits of meditation were seen only in the mindfulness meditation group -- a kind of meditation that focuses on keeping one's thoughts rooted in the present moment, not the past or future. It emphasizes acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment and relaxation of the body and mind.
Goyal suggests that a clear benefit of meditation over antidepressants is that it has no negative side-effects.
"Also relevant for physicians and patients is that there is no known major harm from meditating, and meditation doesn't come with any known side effects," he tells Forbes.
The review also found that meditation improved pain management, yet found little evidence for other reported benefits of meditation -- including curbing substance abuse, poor eating habits, sleep disorders and weight problems.
Previous research has also linked meditation with a reduction in activity in the amygdala, the brain area that governs the stress response.