Meditative practices and their application to the treatment of anxiety and depression – literature review

Akvilė Gečaitė1, Algirdas Musneckis2

1Lithuanian University of Health Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Kaunas, Lithuania

2The Hospital of Lithuanian University of Health Science, Kaunas, Lithuania


Background. In the scientific literature, meditation practices are usually divided into two main techniques: mindfulness (open monitoring) and concentrative (transcendental). They are aiming to improve the psychological capacity of self-regulation regarding attention, awareness, and emotion. Recently, the application of meditative practices to the treatment of depressive and anxiety disorders has met increasing clinical and scientific interest.

Aim. To review meditative practices, their efficacy, mechanisms of action and potential side effects in the treatment of anxiety and depression.

Methods. The literature review was performed based on the scientific database of PubMed. Systematic reviews and meta-analyzes no older than 10 years were included. A total of 38 articles were reviewed, of which 8 were rejected using the inclusion/exclusion criteria.

Results. The most widely researched type of meditation practice is mindfulness meditation. Longer duration of this practice is associated with greater reduction of anxiety and depression symptoms. Meditation practices reduce concentrations of physiological markers of stress, increase concentrations of serotonin and dopamine and can cause functional and structural changes in the insula, prefrontal region, cyngulate cortex, striatum and amygdala. Almost all of the reviewed publications did not observe adverse events of these practices.

Conclusion. The application of meditation in clinical practice as a first-line or adjunctive treatment for depression or anxiety, especially considering a favorable risk-benefit ratio, can be recommended. However, most of the reviewed studies had significant methodological limitations that may have influenced the findings.

Keywords: meditation, anxiety, depression.

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