How Yoga Helps Ease Anxiety
During 2020, anxiety and depression increased by 25% globally.
Stress due to social isolation, changes in people’s work patterns, and reduction in engagement in the community played a part.
Other factors were:
Fear of death and suffering
Fear of infection
Worrying about finances
Death of loved ones
Grieving loved ones
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a psychological state characterised by current fear or a fear of the future. This occurs when experiencing stressful events.
Feeling anxious is a normal response to any stressful event, but once this feeling becomes overwhelming and impacts your day-to-day functioning, it can be detrimental to your wellbeing. This increases the likelihood of developing a more clinically relevant anxiety disorder.
How can we treat anxiety?
Anxiety can be treated with pharmaceutical drugs, however this often causes side effects and further complications, such as withdrawal, dependency, and metabolic abnormalities.
Therapy is a different type of treatment: cognitive behavioural therapy, which has been found to be very beneficial. Potentially due to targeting the underlying thought processes that increase the likelihood of an anxiety disorder developing.
If your anxiety becomes so overwhelming you to the point where you just don’t know where to turn anymore, please seek help from a GP, or the wonderful Mind charity.
If you would like to learn and develop holistic ways of improving and supporting your wellbeing and anxiety, read on.
Mindful exercises are more effective in reducing anxiety than non-mindful exercises.
Mindful exercise utilises low to moderate intensity movements, with the focus on the mind and breath, including elements of meditation. Examples of mindful exercising is:
Reviews of many scientific studies were conducted on both Yoga and Qigong separately.
Both techniques were found to be potential practices in helping individuals with non-clinical anxiety (I.e. non-diagnosed anxiety), as they both help to reduce symptoms of anxiety.
Yoga is a mindful exercise that helps reduce symptoms of anxiety and improves skeleton alignment and joint movement. There is now so much evidence for yogas positive impact on stress and anxiety that healthcare professionals actively suggest it as a supportive technique in recovery and healing.
How does yoga reduce anxiety?
Yoga's meditative quality allows individuals to start self-regulating their thought processes. If this is done in a positive manner it reduces dysfunctional, intrusive thoughts. Controlling what you are thinking and what intensity those thoughts come in, you can exert control over your level of anxiety.
Those intrusive, dysfunctional, ‘what if’ thoughts are targeted in therapy. For example, CBT helps individuals with anxiety to identify these thoughts and replace them with more positive, helpful ones.
[If you, a family member or friend require help within the Berkshire area, contact Talking Therapies. Here the team provides you with an online assessment with relevant self-help courses, a supervisor, and a therapist if you are in need of one. Here is the link to the Berkshire Talking Therapy website: https://talkingtherapies.berkshirehealthcare.nhs.uk]
Meditation and CBT help you gain awareness of your own thought processes and help you understand why they are what they are. This is also known as your metacognition in psychological terms.
Meditation and yoga encourage you to observe and accept thoughts that come up for you, and help you realise that your thoughts, stresses, or worries are just that. They are merely obstacles that you need to address and learn how to cope with effectively. This allows you to take some control.
That’s not all that yoga does though! It actually helps regulate your autonomic nervous system, which involves your stress and relaxation responses. Those who experience anxiety, live in the stress response, meaning that their sympathetic nervous system is firing too much, and their relaxation response (called the parasympathetic nervous system) is not firing enough.
Yoga has been shown to successfully regulate the relaxation response. The more it activates relaxation the more the stress response dampens, and improves the individual’s mood.
Interestingly, it is thought that anxiety and depression occur due to nervous system dysfunction, and actually aiming to heal the way your nervous system fires in a more balanced, healthier way would reduce the intensity of such mental health issues.
How effective is yoga at reducing anxiety?
A study conducted on patients with Parkinson’s disease who took part in either a yoga intervention or a stretching and resistance training exercise group indicated that the yoga intervention was significantly (clinically and statistically) more effective in improving individuals' levels of anxiety and depression.
In simple terms: yoga eased their anxiety and depression symptoms.
Interestingly, the yoga group also experienced improvements in health-related quality of life, perceived hardship, and the ability to remain calm in the difficult positions the condition put such patients in. Considering that participants on average attended only 6 mindfulness yoga sessions, these reported improvements and benefits are amazing.
Furthermore, both intervention groups significantly improved in mobility and motor symptoms.
Another study looked at people with heart failure and how either yoga or hydrotherapy may help them. Both had a decrease in anxiety symptoms and an improvement in their ability to exercise. Like the study above, those who practiced yoga experienced significant improvements in health-related quality of life, and had a decline in symptoms of depression.
Yoga has the power to aid and balance both physical and mental symptoms. Serving as an alternate mode of exercise, yoga provides a soft and gentle approach to physical movement.
To patients with heart failure that need a body friendly approach to exercise, as majority tend to be 75 years old or above. Yoga has also been shown to be suitable for individuals up to the age of 80 and older - we teach a 70+ yoga class and out oldest students is 87! She is fabulous, and every week we look forward to seeing her bounce into the studio with a massive smile.
As you can see, we know from research and from personal experience that yoga can really help reduce levels of anxiety as well as physical symptoms of ageing, and make you all around happier.
At Unwind we teach yoga that is soft and gentle, calm and flowy, all of which helps manage your anxiety by regulating your relaxation response. When anxiety puts you in a permanent state of fight or flight, yoga can be your way out.
Sammi from Unwind Yoga Studio x
P.S. If you are interested in trying out yoga, we offer a range of introductory offers, class passes, and memberships. To see prices click here: https://www.unwindyogastudio.com/pricing
American Psychological Assocation (2022). Available online: https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/
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