New research shows that MBSR, including breath awareness and body scanning, is as effective at treating anxiety as a commonly-used antidepressant. The research adds to a growing body of data that shows that practicing mindfulness can be a powerful and effective treatment for anxiety. Furthermore, mindfulness-based practices may be more accessible to some patients and provide more treatment options.

MBSR vs Escitalopram for the Treatment of Adults With Anxiety Disorders. A Randomised Clinical Trial

Question Is mindfulness-based stress reduction non-inferior to escitalopram for the treatment of anxiety disorders?
INTERVENTIONS Participants were 1:1 randomised to 8 weeks of the weekly MBSR course or the antidepressant escitalopram, flexibly dosed from 10 to 20 mg.
In this trial, participants were assigned to one of two groups: the escitalopram group or the MBSR group. The MBSR group attended 2.5-hour group classes twice a week for eight weeks and practiced mindfulness meditation for 45 minutes a day.

The new study was the first clinical trial to directly compare medication and mindfulness as treatments for anxiety disorders, but mounting research suggests that mindfulness and meditation can help reduce symptoms.

Anxiety disorders are characterised by habitual worrying thoughts about the future, which can trigger a physiological response, like increased heart rate or breathing, which can then trigger even more anxiety. Mindfulness can help people with anxiety disorders learn to better regulate their stress response.

Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) may be more time-consuming and difficult to stick with for some people. Though the initial completion rate for both MBSR and medication treatment was similar, MBSR participants tended to drop off faster as time went on.

The study evaluated the effectiveness of an eight-week course of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) compared to the widely recognised antidepressant, escitalopram, also known as Lexapro. After the study was completed, participants were surveyed using the Clinical Global Impression of Severity scale (CGI-S), which is a rating system that ranges from 1 to 7, with 7 indicating severe anxiety.

The scores of those who participated in mindfulness decreased by an average of 1.35 points, while the scores of those who took escitalopram decreased by an average of 1.43 points. Both interventions had similar statistical significance, suggesting that using mindfulness as a treatment option may be beneficial for certain mental health conditions.

Hoge EA, Bui E, Mete M, Dutton MA, Baker AW, Simon NM. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Escitalopram for the Treatment of Adults With Anxiety Disorders: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 2023;80(1):13–21. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2022.3679