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.
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
→ 10 Signs of Anxiety Everyone Should Know.
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Image credit: c_liecht
→ This post is part of a series on meditation:
- Meditation Benefits: 10 Ways It Helps Your Mind
- Meditation Changes How Genes Are Expressed
- Cognition Accelerated by Just 4 x 20 Minutes Meditation
- How Meditation Improves Attention
- Meditation Can ‘Debias’ the Mind in Only 15 Minutes
- Meditation is an Effective Treatment for Depression, Anxiety and Pain
- Mindfulness: 6 Steps to Better Memory, Verbal Reasoning and Improved Concentration
- Mindfulness at School Decreases Chance of Developing Depression
- 8 Wonderful Psychological Effects of Being Compassionate
- Mindfulness Meditation: 8 Quick Exercises That Fit into Your Day
- Meditation: The Minimum Amount That Works