Discover more from Understandably by Bill Murphy Jr.
Just as good as drugs, they say
How mindfulness training is as good as Lexapro. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
We live in anxious times.
People are worried about inflation and the economy.
Politics are more fraught than most of us can remember.
Parents are worried about their kids; kids are worried about their parents.
What if I were to tell you that there's a simple, science-based practice to ease your anxiety, and that a new report suggests it's as effective as the leading anti-anxiety drugs?
Writing in the peer-reviewed journal, JAMA Psychiatry, researchers from Georgetown University, Harvard, and other institutions say they've determined that a guided mindfulness-based stress reduction program can be at least as effective in treating patients with anxiety disorders as the drug escitalopram, which is known under brand names like Lexapro and Cipralex.
Their research was straightforward: They recruited a total of 276 anxiety patients from Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C.-area hospitals between 2018 and 2020, and offered them treatment amounting either to medication, or to mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
In the end, 102 patients completed the mindfulness training while 106 completed their medication; we assume the other 68 didn't complete either course of action.
It's worth knowing what the MBSR course looked like. It consisted of:
eight weeks of 2.5 hour classes
one day-long retreat weekend class during the 5th or 6th week, and
daily 45-minute home practice exercises.
Clinical evaluators—who did not know whether any patient had used medicine or mindfulness-based stress reduction training to treat their symptoms—then assessed how their levels of anxiety had changed since the beginning, on a scale of 1 to 7.
Results, as reported by Georgetown University:
Both groups saw a reduction in their anxiety symptoms (a 1.35 point mean reduction for MBSR and 1.43 point mean reduction for the drug, which was a statistically equivalent outcome), dropping from a mean of about 4.5 for both, which translates to a significant 30% or so drop in the severity of peoples' anxiety.
This study hits home for me. I've certainly dealt with anxiety, and I've taken Lexapro to help handle it. So, the idea of proven, non-pharmaceutical ways to get the same effect is intriguing.
Of course, the time commitment for MBSR is greater than taking medicine. As study first author Elizabeth Hoge, MD, director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Program and associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown put it:
"[A]lthough mindfulness meditation works, not everyone is willing to invest the time and effort to successfully complete all of the necessary sessions and do regular home practice, which enhances the effect."
On that note, a while back, I shared a story in this newsletter about an 8-minute song that was designed to trigger specific neurological reactions in your brain and calm anxiety.
It's probably one of the most popular things I've shared here. The song is called Weightlessness, and it’s by a British band called Marconi Union that teamed up with a group of sound therapists.
The science behind it:
a rhythm that begins at 60 beats per minute and gradually slows to around 50. Apparently, people's heart rates slow to match the beat
the fact that it's 8 minutes long, because "it takes about five minutes for this process, known as entrainment, to occur."
the structure of the song, and the fact that it lacks a "repeating melody, which allows your brain to completely switch off because you are no longer trying to predict what is coming next."
The song "works at a very deep level within the brain, stimulating not only those regions responsible for processing sound but also ones associated with emotions," said Dr. David Lewis-Hodgson, a neuropsychologist who oversaw the study.
Anyway, I know this isn’t the same thing as mindfulness training like in the more recent study, but it works for me sometimes, and so I like to seize the opportunity to share it.
(The version below runs over and over for 10 hours; obviously I don’t think anyone will watch an 8-minute video for that long, but the longer video means you won’t reach the point where your anxiety almost disappears—only for the video to be interrupted by a jarring ad.)
7 other things worth knowing today
Police on Monday stopped and searched people at the sites of weekend protests in Shanghai and Beijing, after crowds there and in other Chinese cities demonstrated against stringent COVID-19 measures disrupting lives three years into the pandemic. (Reuters)
The world’s largest active volcano, Mauna Loa on Hawaii, is erupting for the first time in nearly 40 years. Though lava is flowing down one side of the volcano, the eruption in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is not threatening communities, the US Geological Survey said midday Monday. (CNN)
The World Health Organization has renamed monkeypox as mpox, citing concerns the original name of the decades-old animal disease could be construed as discriminatory and racist. (AP)
More than 2 million people in the Houston area were under a boil order notice Monday after a power outage at a purification plant caused water pressure to drop, and the mayor of the nation’s fourth-largest city ordered a full review of the system. (AP)
More than 300 people are still dying each day on average from covid-19, most of them 65 or older, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While that’s much lower than the 2,000 daily toll at the peak of the delta wave, it is still roughly two to three times the rate at which people die of the flu—renewing debate about what is an “acceptable loss.” (WashPost)
The tight labor market is prompting more employers to eliminate one of the biggest requirements for many higher-paying jobs: the need for a college degree. U.S. job postings requiring at least a bachelor’s degree were 41% in November, down from 46% at the start of 2019 ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to an analysis by the Burning Glass Institute, a think tank that studies the future of work. (WSJ)
Two weeks after suffering serious burns in a fuel fire, Jay Leno, 72, returned to the stage on Sunday for a performance at The Comedy and Magic Club in Hermosa Beach, California. "I never thought of myself as a roast comic," Leno joked as he arrived at the venue. He also bumped into a police car on the way there, in what appears to be a minor accident. (People, Daily Mail)