The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that approximately 40 million adults 18+ are affected by anxiety each year. By and large, anxiety has become accepted as a common experience in our busy and oftentimes overwhelming lives. Only about 37% of those affected seek treatment. For some, anxiety becomes excessive and debilitating, affecting the ability to carry out basic daily functions.
Like any medical condition, the impact of the condition increases over time. Left untreated, anxiety can either improve spontaneously, persist or get worse. Anxiety may also exacerbate other mental health conditions such as depression.
Naturally, the question becomes how can anxiety be addressed? Unfortunately, slowing life down to a more manageable pace may simply not be an option. However, the price of ignoring anxiety is that it may persist or get worse and take away from the enjoyment of life. Another concern is that research studies show that anxiety disorder increases the risk for addiction to alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs.
While the current approach for addressing anxiety disorders is the combination of psychotherapy and medications, a number of natural options are also supported by research. One of these treatments is yoga.
Yoga: ANTIDOTE for Anxiety
In recent years, yoga has become increasingly popular for health and relaxation. Many people find it to be a great, low impact exercise. Many of us have readily adopted yoga pants into our lives, without even trying the benefits of actual yoga.
Yoga is a complex philosophy, which includes ethical guidelines for life, meditation and breathing exercises, and the physical postures are just one of the components of yoga. There are multiple forms of physical yoga, some of which are gentle and others physically intense.
Researchers believe yoga is effective in improving with mental health issues because it engages the parasympathetic system. When you experience stress (such as during a near miss traffic accident), your sympathetic nervous system activates to make you more alert and help your body react to the situation. Your parasympathetic system typically activates to calm you down after moments of stress. Chronic stress can create a serious imbalance and overactivation of the sympathetic nervous system. If your body stays 'geared up' for too long, you can begin to experience the symptoms of anxiety disorder.
During yoga, your parasympathetic system is activated to reduce your body’s stress response. Research shows that a regular routine of yoga can be helpful in reducing stress and anxiety. Practicing yoga can help you to become more adept at slowing your breathing and heart rate to relax during stressful situations. Studies have also shown that the benefits of yoga can directly impact the brain - altering and increasing levels of neurotransmitters that affect anxiety and mood.
There are a number of types and subtypes of yoga, with varying levels of intensity and each can provide somewhat different health benefits. Generally, research has finds favorable results for Hatha yoga in reducing anxiety.
Some forms of yoga may not fit your abilities or interests. More strenuous forms may not be for everyone, particularly if you have mobility issues or health issues, such as chronic pain.
If you have been struggling with anxiety, you may want to capitalize on the mind-body connection to help you reduce and manage your symptoms. Consider working with a clinician who practices holistic care integrating alternative means of treatment.
If you're looking for place to start, reach out to Kaylee Ruthchik Stix, a trusted member of our Mind Body Seven staff. She's a psychotherapist and yoga teacher specializing in mind-body therapy. In a collaborative therapeutic partnership, she can help you to not only learn to cope with the challenges of daily life, but to take control of your overall health and well-being. Her approach includes mindfulness, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), meditative breath work, yoga therapy and other mind body techniques.