More and more children are developing anxiety disorders these days. In fact, more than one in four adolescents, specifically between the ages of 13 and 18, are diagnosed with some form of anxiety disorder. Many are treated with anti-depressant medication and other forms of medication to try and assist them to live a relatively normal childhood. Unfortunately, many of these medications can have negative side effects on young developing minds and dependency issues can easily arise.
Luckily, a team of researchers from the University of Cincinnati set out to find some other treatment methods that focus more on the mind and less on chemical, pharmaceutical solutions.
Other Successful Solutions
A study was published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology; the study included 9 participants who had been diagnosed with anxiety disorders between the ages of 9 and 16. The types of disorders varied from social and/or separation disorders to having a parent who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Over the course of 12 weeks, each one of the participants underwent functional magnetic resonance image (fMRI) scans while practicing mindfulness based cognitive therapy, including a wide range of therapeutic techniques, such as meditation, yoga, and the ability to pay non-judgmental attention to their lives.
“These integrative approaches expand traditional treatments and offer new strategies for coping with psychological distress,” said the study’s co-author Sian Cotton, director of the UC’s Center for Integrative Health and Wellness. “Mindfulness-based therapeutic interventions promote the use of meditative practices to increase present-moment awareness of conscious thoughts, feelings, and body sensations in an effort to manage negative experiences more effectively.”
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 80 percent of children who have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and 60 percent of those who have been diagnosed with depression do not receive any form of treatment. Many mental health experts are starting to agree that mindfulness exercises can help bridge the treatment gap in an amazing way. There is also some early evidence showing that these techniques can be used to prevent relapses of depression and/or anxiety.
Cotton notes that the anxiety level of their patients was significantly reduced after treatment, and the more mindfulness they practiced, the less anxious they felt on a regular basis. Both of these findings go to show how effective the practice of being mindful really is and exactly what mindfulness therapy could bring to the table. At the very least, it can act as a great substitute for heavy doses of prescription medication that can have some serious effects on young developing minds. If this can be avoided altogether, then these mindfulness exercises should be practiced far and wide, for children and adults alike, who suffer from anxiety and depression.
Increasingly, patients and families are asking for therapeutic options, in addition to traditional medication-based treatments, that have proven effectiveness for improved symptom reduction. “Mindfulness-based therapy for mood disorders is one such example with promising evidence,” says Cotton, adding that the university is both studying and implementing these therapies.
Being Mindful Changes Brain Chemistry
After the 12-week experiment was over, Cotton and the other researchers involved in the study had found that mindfulness therapy increased neural activity in the same part of the brain that plays a role in processing cognitive and emotion information known as the cingulate. The therapy also increased brain activity in the insula, which is the part of the brain that helps monitor how the body feels psychologically.
“This raises the possibility that treatment-related increases in brain activity during emotional processing may improve emotional processing in anxious youth who are at risk for developing bipolar disorder,” says fellow co-author Dr. Jeffrey Strawn, a professor in UC’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience, as well as director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Program. “The path from understanding the effects of psychotherapy on brain activity to the identification of treatment response is a challenging one, and will require additional studies of emotional processing circuits.”
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