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Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being

Systematic Review ARCHIVED Jan 6, 2014
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Archived: This report is greater than 3 years old. Findings may be used for research purposes, but should not be considered current.

Structured Abstract


Meditation, a mind-body method, employs a variety of techniques designed to facilitate the mind's capacity to affect bodily function and symptoms. An increasing number of patients are using meditation programs despite uncertainty about the evidence supporting the health benefits of meditation. We aimed to determine the efficacy and safety of meditation programs on stress-related outcomes (e.g., anxiety, depression, stress, distress, well-being, positive mood, quality of life, attention, health-related behaviors affected by stress, pain, and weight) compared with an active control in diverse adult clinical populations

Data sources

We searched MEDLINE®, PsycINFO®, Embase®, PsycArticles, SCOPUS, CINAHL, AMED, and the Cochrane Library in November 2012. We also performed manual searches.

Review methods

We included randomized controlled trials with an active control that reported on the stress outcomes of interest. Two reviewers independently screened titles to find trials that reported on outcomes, and then extracted data on trial characteristics and effect modifiers (amount of training or teacher qualifications). We graded the strength of evidence (SOE) using four domains (risk of bias, precision, directness, and consistency). To assess the direction and magnitude of reported effects of the interventions, we calculated the relative difference between groups in how each outcome measure changed from baseline. We conducted meta-analysis using standardized mean differences to obtain aggregate estimates of effects with 95-percent confidence intervals (CIs). We analyzed efficacy trials separately from comparative effectiveness trials.


After a review of 17,801 citations, we included 41 trials with 2,993 participants. Most trials were short term, but they ranged from 4 weeks to 9 years in duration. Trials conducted against nonspecific active controls provided efficacy data. Mindfulness meditation programs had moderate SOE for improvement in anxiety (effect size [ES], 0.40; CI, 0.08 to 0.71 at 8 weeks; ES, 0.22; CI, 0.02 to 0.43 at 3–6 months), depression (ES, 0.32; CI, ?0.01 to 0.66 at 8 weeks; ES, 0.23; CI, 0.05 to 0.42 at 3–6 months); and pain (ES, 0.33; CI, 0.03 to 0.62); and low SOE for improvement in stress/distress and mental health–related quality of life. We found either low SOE of no effect or insufficient SOE of an effect of meditation programs on positive mood, attention, substance use, eating, sleep, and weight. In our comparative effectiveness analyses, we did not find any evidence to suggest that these meditation programs were superior to any specific therapies they were compared with. Only 10 trials had a low risk of bias. Limitations included clinical heterogeneity, variability in the types of controls, and heterogeneity of the interventions (e.g., dosing, frequency, duration, technique).


Meditation programs, in particular mindfulness programs, reduce multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress. Stronger study designs are needed to determine the effects of meditation programs in improving the positive dimensions of mental health as well as stress-related behavioral outcomes.

Journal Publications

Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga ES, et al. Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-being: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014. doi:10.1001/ jamainternmed.2013.13018.

Project Timeline

Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being

Oct 28, 2011
Oct 17, 2012
Jan 6, 2014
Systematic Review Archived
Page last reviewed December 2019
Page originally created November 2017

Internet Citation: Systematic Review: Meditation Programs for Psychological Stress and Well-Being. Content last reviewed December 2019. Effective Health Care Program, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.

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