Loosening the Grip of Emotions

From “Anxiety? Banish the Thought,” The Week Magazine: Health & Science, Jan. 20, 2011:

So many Americans suffer from anxiety and depression that antidepressants like Prozac and Zoloft have become household terms. But new research suggests that mindfulness therapy—a sittingmeditation-based treatment with roots in Buddhism and yoga—can help people with mood disorders feel better without drugs.

“I was skeptical at first,” Stefan Hofmann, a psychology professor at Boston University, tells the Los Angeles Times. “I wondered, ‘Why on earth should this work?’”

Yet after reviewing 39 studies on the practice involving 1,140 patients, Hofmann’s team concluded that mindfulness therapy relieved anxiety and improved mood; another study published  last month found the treatment is as effective as antidepressants at preventing relapses of depression.

It doesn’t work for everyone, but experts have found that training patients to observe their own immediate thoughts can often loosen the grip emotions have on their minds—MRI scans of patients’ brains display shifts in mental activity.

Jordan Elliott, a 26-year-old marketer, began mindfulness therapy for debilitating anxiety four years ago; he now meditates for 10 minutes each morning and has stopped taking Prozac. “When a negative thought pops off in my head,” he says, “I say to myself, ‘There’s a thought. And feelings aren’t facts.’”

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