Methods To Reduce Anxiety: Medication vs. Meditation
- A new study from JAMA Psychiatry, for the first time, compared a mindfulness meditation program to escitalopram (drug name Lexapro), a commonly used first-line treatment for anxiety disorders.
- Researchers found the mindfulness method called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR, worked equally as well as the medication.
- Actress Amanda Seyfried has sworn by Lexapro and has previously stated she won’t come off of the medication because of its efficacy.
- Data on integrative medicine is often hard to pinpoint, but in the case of meditation there is a good deal of high quality scientific research demonstrating the benefits of meditation for people with cancer.
The study is interesting but surely needs follow up and more confirmation say experts, but some people with anxiety will need a lot of convincing. We empathize with folks such as actress Amanda Seyfried who said previously that that she may never get of Lexapro for her anxiety issues.Read More
“The way that I define anxiety is that it’s an internal question that we simply can’t find the answers to,” Dr. Marianna Strongin, a clinical psychologist and founder of Strong In Therapy, previously told SurvivorNet.
The Meditation v. Medication Study
Researchers published ‘Treatments for Anxiety: Meditation and Escitalopram [TAME]’ study in JAMA Psychiatry in early November. The results could likely shift the way people treat their anxiety going forward and might give patients more options.
It is important to note the study took place before the COVID-19 pandemic and results might look much different if the study were conducted today. The primary sample set consisted of 208 patients, with 102 in the mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR) and 106 on escitalopram.
MBSR therapy, according to a systematic review, “is a meditation therapy, though originally designed for stress management, it is being used for treating a variety of illnesses such as depression, anxiety, chronic pain, cancer, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, skin and immune disorders.”
The study says participants did either 8 weeks of the weekly MBSR course or the antidepressant escitalopram, flexibly dosed from 10 to 20 mg. “At the end of eight weeks using the same clinical scale, and both groups showed about a 20% reduction in the severity of their symptoms,” reported NPR.
‘I’m On Lexapro, And I’ll Never Get Off Of It’
Actress Amanda Seyfried, 36, told Allure magazine in 2016, she’s been on escitalopram since she was 19. So for someone like her, she may be hesitant to come off of a drug she has found to be quite effective.
“I’m on the lowest dose. I don’t see the point of getting off of it,” said the Mamma Mia! and Les Miserables actress, at the time.
“Whether it’s placebo or not, I don’t want to risk it. And what are you fighting against? Just the stigma of using a tool? A mental illness is a thing that people cast in a different category [from other illnesses], but I don’t think it is. It should be taken as seriously as anything else,” she said.
Seyfried has also been candid about her obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
“You don’t see the mental illness: It’s not a mass; it’s not a cyst. But it’s there,” she said in the interview with Allure. “Why do you need to prove it? If you can treat it, you treat it. I had pretty bad health anxiety that came from the OCD and thought I had a tumor in my brain. I had an MRI, and the neurologist referred me to a psychiatrist. As I get older, the compulsive thoughts and fears have diminished a lot. Knowing that a lot of my fears are not reality-based really helps.”
Seyfried recently opened up to Porter magazine about gaining confidence and her life as a mother, while balancing a busy acting career.
“Nothing can crush me completely, when it comes to work. I’m uncrushable! Not one thing can crush my life, unless it has to do with my family,” she said to Porter.
Meditation For All
While the study is a relatively small set of participants, it’s still a reminder that meditation can play a key role in someones course of treatment. And can be a tool for cancer patients going through stressful treatment.
In this video, Dr. Brian Berman, director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at University of Maryland, takes us through a guided meditation. Ideally, Dr. Berman recommends using this relaxation technique once or twice a day or for 10 to 15 minutes a day in order to really begin experiencing the benefits that come from meditation.
Mindfulness is often suggested for cancer patients to reduce high levels of anxiety and distress associated with diagnosis, treatment, and anticipation of possible disease recurrence. Both the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the Society of Integrative Oncology (SIO) recommend meditation as part of a multidisciplinary approach to reduce stress, depression, and mood disturbance, and to improve the quality of life in cancer patients. That same approach can be beneficial during any hardship.
But the question remains: does it really work? We think it does.
5 Tips For Practicing Mindfulness:
- Choose one daily activity to practice mindfully (e.g. eating your lunch, brushing your teeth or taking a shower). During this activity notice your breath and activity of your mind for a few moments.
- Take a pause throughout your day. During your day, find a moment to stop and take 5 deep breaths with your eyes closed.
- Kindly acknowledge a moment you’re experiencing a difficulty by putting your hand on your heart and saying, “I feel my pain. How can I be kind to myself in this moment?”
- Get curious about your emotions. Experiment with welcoming your emotions as they come, instead of pushing them away.
- Become aware when you’re in a rush. Ask yourself, “Do I really need to hurry?”
A regular practice of meditation can allow people to become aware of their emotions in the physical body and the thoughts running through the mind, to feel into their emotions and acknowledge their thoughts as they arise, and then gently let them go.
Another tactic is gratitude: what is it and why does it matter? You’ve probably heard the word thrown around here and there when discussing complex concepts. But living with gratitude is quite simple in its meaning. It means being thankful for what you have and showing appreciation in your day to day life — and it can be really helpful for those struggling with mental hardships.
Dr. Zuri Murrell, a colorectal cancer surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, told SurvivorNet in a previous interview, that his patients who live with gratitude tend to handle treatment better because this attitude is one way to stay mentally healthy.
“The patients who do well with cancer, they live life with that kind of gratitude, but in terms of everything,” Dr. Murrell explained. “They’re grateful, not for cancer, but they’re grateful for an opportunity to know that life is finite.”