Effects of mindfulness exercises as stand-alone intervention on symptoms of anxiety and depression: Systematic review and meta-analysis

Behav Res Ther. 2018 Mar:102:25-35. doi: 10.1016/j.brat.2017.12.002. Epub 2017 Dec 20.


Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) are currently well established in psychotherapy with meta-analyses demonstrating their efficacy. In these multifaceted interventions, the concrete performance of mindfulness exercises is typically integrated in a larger therapeutic framework. Thus, it is unclear whether stand-alone mindfulness exercises (SAMs) without such a framework are beneficial, as well. Therefore, we conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis regarding the effects of SAMs on symptoms of anxiety and depression. Systematic searching of electronic databases resulted in 18 eligible studies (n = 1150) for meta-analyses. After exclusion of one outlier SAMs had small to medium effects on anxiety (SMD = 0.39; CI: 0.22, 0.56; PI: 0.07, 0.70; p < .001, I2 = 18.90%) and on depression (SMD = 0.41; CI: 0.19, 0.64; PI: -0.05, 0.88; p < .001; I2 = 33.43%), when compared with controls. Summary effect estimates decreased, but remained significant when corrected for potential publication bias. This is the first meta-analysis to show that the mere, regular performance of mindfulness exercises is beneficial, even without being integrated in larger therapeutic frameworks.

Keywords: Anxiety; Depression; Meta-analysis; Mindfulness; Stand-alone intervention.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / therapy*
  • Depression / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Mindfulness / methods*