Even though a growing body of research has demonstrated the legitimate mental and physical health benefits of meditation, some people still consider mindfulness to be merely a New Age fad rather than a serious treatment option.
Now, a new Swedish study offers more compelling evidence for the effectiveness of mindfulness-based practices in treating anxiety and depression.
Researchers from Lund University found group mindfulness treatment to be as effective as individual cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in treating individuals suffering from anxiety, depression and severe stress responses -- and it may be more affordable and convenient.
The research was conducted at 16 health care centers in Southern Sweden. A total of 215 patients with anxiety, depression or severe stress reactions were randomly sorted into either a regular treatment group, in which they underwent individual CBT sessions, or underwent 10-patient group mindfulness treatment sessions. Both programs lasted for eight weeks.
Before and after the treatments, the participants were asked to fill out questionnaires to determine the severity of their anxiety and depression symptoms. Among both groups, self-reported symptoms of anxiety and depression decreased. The researchers noted that there was no statistical difference between the CBT and the mindfulness groups.
"Group mindfulness treatment should be considered as an alternative to individual psychotherapy, especially at primary health care centers that can’t offer everyone individual therapy," Sundquist said in a statement.
While a growing body of research has shown mindfulness treatment to be effective in managing symptoms of anxiety and depression, the new Lund research is the first to show mindfulness to be as effective as traditional forms of therapy.
Earlier this year, a review of 47 studies showed that evidence of a positive effect of mindfulness on managing anxiety, depression and pain had been proven across a number of clinical trials.
"Clinicians should be prepared to talk with their patients about the role that a meditation program could have in addressing psychological stress," the researchers wrote in a paper published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine in January.
This reduction of symptoms is likely rooted in actual changes in the brain. In 2011, Harvard researchers found that participating in an eight-week mindfulness training program created significant changes in brain areas associated with sense of self, empathy, stress and memory. MRI data revealed that meditation increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus, a region associated with learning and memory, and decreased density in the amygdala, a brain region associated with fear, anxiety and stress responses.
The findings were published online last week in the British Journal of Psychiatry.