Meditation effective in treating anxiety, depression, Hopkins research suggests

Are there times when you feel anxious or depressed?

Good news: you're normal.

But there's more good news: new research from Johns Hopkins suggests you might be able to reduce anxiety or depression simply by sitting down and meditating.

The study was led by Dr. Madhav Goyal, an assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and was published online Jan. 6 in JAMA Internal Medicine. According to Goyal's research, "meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as … antidepressants." In other words, Goyal's research suggests that daily mindfulness-based meditation might be able to reduce depression as effectively as some pharmaceutical drugs. Also, Goyal notes, patients who participated in the study typically did not have full-blown anxiety or depression.

Now in case you assume that Goyal's cure for depression consists of sitting down and turning off your brain, there's something you should be, um, mindful, of.

The kind of meditation Goyal is referring to is a very active form of "mindfulness"—a form of Buddhist self-awareness designed to focus precise, nonjudgmental attention to the moment at hand. It's the difference between not thinking about anything, and being disinterestedly aware of what you are thinking about. The second one—the disinterested, non-judgey form of self-awareness—is what Goyal's research speaks to.

Here's how Goyal went about the research:

To conduct their review, the investigators focused on 47 clinical trials performed through June 2013 among 3,515 participants that involved meditation and various mental and physical health issues, including depression, anxiety, stress, insomnia, substance use, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and chronic pain. They found moderate evidence of improvement in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and pain after participants underwent what was typically an eight-week training program in mindfulness meditation. They discovered low evidence of improvement in stress and quality of life. … They also found no harm came from meditation.

No harm. Lots of benefits. As successful as some anti-depressants, but much cheaper.

So what are you waiting for? Take a deep breath and … meditate.

Read more from Hopkins Medicine