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Meditation may ease anxiety among people who suffer from anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). But a new study suggests meditation isn’t necessarily better than other types of relaxation techniques at treating anxiety disorders.

Researchers reviewed two studies comparing meditation to other relaxation techniques, such as biofeedback, and found both alternative therapies were equally effective in reducing anxiety.

No side effects were associated with meditation, but 33%-44% of the participants in the studies dropped out, which suggests that people with anxiety disorders may have a hard time sticking to a meditation regimen. Consequently, researchers say more studies are needed to determine the role of meditation in treating anxiety disorders.

Meditation vs. Relaxation

In the study, researchers reviewed research on meditation and other types of relaxation techniques. Only two studies that compared meditation to other relaxation techniques met the researchers’ requirements for review.

The first compared transcendental meditation to relaxation therapy and EMG (electromyography) biofeedback.

Transcendental meditation involves focusing the mind on an object until the mind achieves stillness. EMG biofeedback measures muscle relaxation and teaches people to control their own level of muscle relaxation.

The second study compared mindfulness meditation, which encourages awareness of one’s thoughts while maintaining detachment, to Kundalini yoga. Kundalini yoga includes a meditative form of breathing known as pranayama.

Researchers say both studies showed that meditation was comparable to other forms of relaxation therapy in reducing anxiety overall. But the small number of people involved in the studies makes it difficult to draw any firm conclusions about the effectiveness of meditation in the treatment of anxiety disorders.

In particular, the results showed:

  • All relaxation and meditation techniques resulted in improved scores on measures of anxiety, current mood, and symptoms of distress, but sleepdisturbances did not improve.
  • Work, social functioning, and family relations also improved among all treatment groups, but marital relations and sex life were not affected.
  • Kundalini yoga wasn’t as effective in treating obsessive-compulsive disorders as mindful meditation, although participants who practiced this form of yoga had more improvement on scores of perceived stress and purpose in life.

The study appears in the current online issue of The Cochrane Review.


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