Project Summary

This research project is in progress. PCORI will post the research findings on this page within 90 days after the results are final. In the meantime, results have been published in peer-reviewed journals, as listed below.

What is the research about?

Anxiety is a normal reaction to stressful events or situations. However, people with anxiety disorders experience fear, worry, or nervousness that can prevent them from doing daily activities. There are many types of anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Medicines are available to treat anxiety disorders, but some people do not want to take these medicines because of side effects or other concerns. Meditation is a treatment option for people who prefer not to take medicines for anxiety disorders.

In this study, the research team is comparing two treatments for adults who have anxiety disorders. The treatments are a type of meditation and a medicine commonly used to treat anxiety disorders. The team is comparing these treatments to see how each affects patients’ anxiety symptoms.

Who can this research help?

Patients and their doctors can use results from this study when considering options for treating anxiety disorders.

What is the research team doing?

The research team is recruiting 370 patients ages 18 to 75 who have anxiety disorders. The study is taking place at medical centers in Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, DC.

The research team is assigning people to one of two treatments by chance:

  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction. Patients take part in weekly 2.5-hour mindfulness meditation classes for eight weeks. A trained instructor teaches meditation that focuses on awareness of the body, breathing, and movement. Patients practice mindfulness meditation every day at home for 45 minutes and in their daily activities. As part of the program, patients take part in a one-day retreat that lasts for seven hours.
  • Medicine. Patients regularly visit a doctor or other clinician for two months. Patients receive escitalopram, a medicine commonly used to treat anxiety disorders. Their clinician gradually increases the dose until the medicine is effective but still tolerable for the patients.

At the start of the study and again two months later, clinicians assess patients’ anxiety symptoms. Patients also answer questions through surveys. The surveys ask patients about their anxiety symptoms, worry, sleep quality, quality of life, satisfaction with treatment, and how anxiety affects their work.

Patients, health system administrators, and staff from patient advocacy organizations are working with the research team to help plan and guide the study.

Research methods at a glance

Design Element Description
Design Randomized controlled trial
Population 370 adults ages 18 to 75 who have an anxiety disorder, including social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, or agoraphobia
  • Mindfulness-based stress reduction
  • Escitalopram, a standard medication for patients with anxiety disorders

Primary: symptom severity as rated by a clinician

Secondary: anxiety severity and impairment, measurements of side effects of treatments, sleep quality, worry, quality of life, satisfaction with treatment, work performance

Timeframe Timeframe Length of follow-up for collecting data on primary outcomes. View Glossary 2-month follow-up for primary outcome

More to Explore...

Media Mentions

Findings from this study, appearing in JAMA Psychiatry in November 2022, were highlighted in news media and included comments from study Principal Investigator Elizabeth Hoge, MD. Learn more at the following links.

Meditation works as well as a popular drug to reduce anxiety, study finds
Fulton, "Shots" Blog, NPR, November 9, 2022

Mindfulness worked as well for anxiety as drug in study
Tanner, Associated Press, November 9, 2022

Video: Mindfulness as an anxiety treatment could be as effective as antidepressant, study shows
Thompson, "NBC Nightly News," NBC, November 10, 2022

Study: Mindfulness-based stress reduction works as well as a popular anxiety drug
Martin, "Morning Edition," NPR, November 11, 2022

Project Information

Elizabeth Hoge, MD
Georgetown University Medical Center
Comparative Effectiveness of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Pharmacotherapy for Anxiety

Key Dates

November 2017
June 2023

Study Registration Information


Has Results
Award Type
Health Conditions Health Conditions These are the broad terms we use to categorize our funded research studies; specific diseases or conditions are included within the appropriate larger category. Note: not all of our funded projects focus on a single disease or condition; some touch on multiple diseases or conditions, research methods, or broader health system interventions. Such projects won’t be listed by a primary disease/condition and so won’t appear if you use this filter tool to find them. View Glossary
Populations Populations PCORI is interested in research that seeks to better understand how different clinical and health system options work for different people. These populations are frequently studied in our portfolio or identified as being of interest by our stakeholders. View Glossary
Intervention Strategy Intervention Strategies PCORI funds comparative clinical effectiveness research (CER) studies that compare two or more options or approaches to health care, or that compare different ways of delivering or receiving care. View Glossary
State State The state where the project originates, or where the primary institution or organization is located. View Glossary
Last updated: January 20, 2023