Meditation vs. Medication: Drug-Free Anxiety Buster Works Just as Well, Study Reveals

Mindfulness meditation equals effectiveness of a popular drug that’s loaded with side effects

Robert Roy Britt
4 min readNov 9, 2022

Image: Pixabay

There are ample reasons to be anxious these days, from the pandemic to political polarization, inflation to rising interest rates. No surprise, anxiety has been rising like a colossal collective lump in the throats of adults and children in the United States and around the world. However, people don’t always realize when their constant worry has blossomed into a diagnosable disorder.

When stress and occasional anxiety devolve into full-blown generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) — defined as excessive, hard-to-control worry most days for at least six months — antidepressants are often prescribed as a front-line treatment. One such drug is escitalopram, sold under the brand name Lexapro. It boosts the brain’s release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, behavior and memory.

You can imagine why scientists seek alternative treatments. Escitalopram’s side effects range from diarrhea, drowsiness and dizziness to confusion, hallucinations and seizures.

New research finds guided therapy called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) can be just as effective as escitalopram, with the main side effects being less stress and greater control over emotions. The findings, detailed today in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, don’t discount the value of escitalopram but rather offer a drug-free alternative.

“There may be people who have an anxiety disorder and don’t know it,” said study leader Elizabeth Hoge, MD, director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Program and associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center. “These people would probably benefit from treatment, such as MBSR or a medication like escitalopram.”

The study involved 276 men and women, average age 33, who had been diagnosed with anxiety disorder. Symptoms were evaluated before the study, after eight weeks of treatment either with MBSR or the antidepressant drug, and in follow-ups at three and six months. The severity of anxiety in both groups dropped about 30% after treatment.

Robert Roy Britt

Founder/editor of Wise & Well on Medium & the Writer's Guide at & author of Make Sleep Your Superpower