Anxiety and mindfulness meditation - A self-managed intervention with few if any side effects

By: Tom Cloyd - 3 min. read (Published: 2023-01-25; reviewed: 2023-01-25:1715 Pacific Time (USA))

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Photo by Saffu on Unsplash

Mindfulness meditation has been suggested by a variety of sources for some time as a way of reducing or eliminating anxiety. We now have published the first randomized clinical trial comparing mindfulness to a common antianxiety medication (Lexapro). Results indicate that the two interventions produce equivalent results.

No medication works for everyone, and for some individuals the commonly used anxiolytics (antianxiety medications) are not an option:

“Taking benzodiazepines over long periods may lead to drug tolerance or even dependence….Beta-blockers generally are not recommended for people with asthma or diabetes because they may worsen symptoms related to both conditions….Buspirone…must be taken every day for 3 to 4 weeks to reach its full effect and is not effective for treating anxiety on an “as-needed” basis.”1

Mindfulness meditation (MM) can have an immediate effect due to its refocusing one’s attention away from anxiety-producing thoughts and in the direction of harmless things like body sensations and breathing. However, the full effect often takes some time to emerge.

In the reported research, those subjects who received the MM intervention were trained over an 8-week period. They “… attended a weekly 2.5-hour-long class with a mindfulness teacher, completed daily at-home exercises for 45 minutes, and attended a one-day mindfulness retreat five or six weeks into the course.”2

Two months after the beginning of the MM intervention, “…anxiety…declined by about 30% in both groups and continued to decrease during the following four months.”3 To summarize, “mindfulness-based stress reduction was a well-tolerated treatment option with comparable effectiveness to a first-line medication for patients with anxiety disorders.”4

MM usually works best for those with mild anxiety, but for others it can be appropriate to employ MM coupled with anxiolytics3

MM training “…has been shown to reduce activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain that helps regulate fear, stress and other emotions.” Research suggests that these types of changes can be long-lasting, and remain available even if individuals do not complete MM training.2

There are potential additional benefits to MM training: It has been shown to improve sleep, lower blood pressure, and alter gut bacteria. In regular meditators, gut bacteria which are associated with reduced anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular disease are more dominant.5

Individuals interested in trying mindfulness meditation for relief from anxiety are advised to continue their medication, if any, and to seek training from qualified trainers. Two such groups have been recommended2, and individuals trained by them would be excellent resources to reach out to:

  • Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction - a research-validated training that certifies those who complete an online training course. This is the course developed by the well-known Jon Kabat-Zinn who has probably done more than anyone else to demonstrate mindfulness meditations effectiveness. He has worked extensively in medical and psychiatric settings.
  • Insight Meditation Society - “IMS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit spiritual organization dedicated to the boundless sharing of the teachings of the Buddha. Founded in 1976 by world renowned meditation teachers Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, and Jack Kornfield. IMS offers traditional silent retreats on our campus in Barre, Massachusetts, and accessible online programs designed for contemporary practitioners navigating the modern age. IMS silent retreats and online programs are designed for those who wish to enhance their wisdom, compassion, and happiness, and are appropriate for people of all backgrounds, faiths, and experience level.”

Hoge, E. A., Bui, E., Mete, M., Dutton, M. A., Baker, A. W., & Simon, N. M. (2023). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Escitalopram for the Treatment of Adults With Anxiety Disorders: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry, 80(1), 13–21.

Mental Health Medications. (n.d.). National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Retrieved January 25, 2023, from

Morris, A. (2023-01-23). Mindfulness exercises can be as effective as anxiety drugs, study shows. Washington Post.

Payton. L.T. (2023-01-24). Mindfulness exercises can help relieve anxiety as effectively as medications like Lexapro. Fortune. Retrieved January 25, 2023, from

Tanner, L. & Associated Press. (2022-11-09). Meditation or drugs? The first ever test on which helps reduce anxiety more finds they both do—a lot. Fortune. Retrieved January 25, 2023, from

  1. Mental Health Medications. (n.d.). ^

  2. Morris, A. (2023-01-23) ^ ^2 ^3

  3. Tanner, L. & Associated Press. (2022-11-09) ^ ^2

  4. Hoge, E. A., et al. (2023) ^

  5. Payton. L.T. (2023-01-24) ^


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