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Study: Mindfulness-based stress reduction works as well as a popular anxiety drug

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

So how are you feeling today? Yeah. It's been a week, right? Some of us have good coping mechanisms in place for stress - exercise, time with family, time away from family. But the stress and anxiety that accumulates over a few days or weeks can be utterly debilitating for some people. Seven million Americans suffer from generalized anxiety disorder. That's according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. But less than half seek treatment. Dr. Elizabeth Hoge is director of Georgetown University's Anxiety Disorders Research Program. Here's how she describes the condition.

ELIZABETH HOGE: A disorder characterized by frequent and intense worry that makes it hard for people to concentrate, hurts their sleep, makes them irritable. And those symptoms are so bad that it interferes with their ability to get things done.

MARTIN: Many suffering from anxiety are prescribed antidepressant medications like Lexapro. Dr. Hoge did this study to try and find out if patients could get the same relief through meditation. She and her team compared patients taking Lexapro to those who underwent an eight-week meditation program. It was called mindfulness-based stress reduction.

HOGE: It's weekly classes for 2 1/2 hours, plus we ask participants to do 45 minutes of meditation homework each day, if they can, to really get the skills.

MARTIN: Their research was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the conclusion?

HOGE: The effect of treatments were pretty much the same. Doctors can feel comfortable recommending mindfulness meditation training to their patients in the same way that they might recommend psychotherapy or medication or both.

MARTIN: Dr. Hoge's goal is to get insurance companies to cover mindfulness meditation. This is my free advice. Being still, breathing deeply is always a good idea. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.