Meditation is an Effective Treatment for Depression, Anxiety and Pain

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Data from 47 different clinical trials finds meditation is as effective as antidepressants.

A medical journal review has found that just 30 minutes daily meditation can improve the symptoms of depression, anxiety and pain.

The research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, included studies with a total of 3,515 participants (Goyal et al., 2014).

All of the research involved active control groups so it was possible to discount the placebo effect.

The placebo effect occurs when people expect to get better–sometimes simply as a result of being in a study–and so they do.

Studies with active control groups, though, can help discount the placebo effect as the treatment can be compared with a group who have similar expectations.

Meditation is more than relaxation

Participants in this review had had at least 4 hours of instruction in a form of meditation, such as mindfulness or mantra-based programs.

Typically, though, participants were given 2.5 hours instruction per week over 8 weeks.

Many of the participants also had physical problems, like lower back pain, heart disease and insomnia, which were likely heavily involved in their depression and/or anxiety.

The control groups contained matched participants who did things that were similar to meditation, but without actually being meditation.

For example, people in the control group in some of the studies performed progressive muscle relaxation. This has some of the physical requirements of meditation–i.e. you’re relaxed–but doesn’t involve the cognitive aspect.

Madhav Goyal M.D. explained:

“A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing. But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”

The meditation conditions, though, consistently outperformed the control conditions, suggesting meditation is effective.

And, when the researchers compared the magnitude of the gains with those taking medications, the effectiveness was similar.

No side-effects

On top of these findings for depression and anxiety, the review also found that meditation was an effective treatment for those experiencing pain.

When you consider that meditation has no side-effects in comparison to many medications, it starts to look even better.

→ Read on: Meditation Benefits: 10 Ways It Helps Your Mind

Image credit: c_liecht

About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 8 January 2014

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