During a regular year, an estimated 6.8 million American adults struggle with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). This year, though, has been anything but normal. It is fair to consider that more and more people are feeling particularly anxious in these trying times.
Researchers from New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine just released a new study that may be of interest to you if you are one of the millions of people who find themselves worrying too much more often recently or have been dealing with GAD for quite some time now. They conclude that yoga offers tangible anxiety-reducing benefits and can help alleviate symptoms related to GAD.
GAD is identified by usual feelings of nervousness and worry. While it is accurate that almost everyone feels anxious from time to time, the situation crosses over into the disorder territory once those feelings start to interfere with daily life. An individual is usually officially diagnosed with anxiety if they report having the inability to control their anxieties on most days over six months. Most people with GAD say they frequently experience intense worries about straightforward problems like grocery shopping, parking, or even responding to emails.
Yoga, meanwhile, is an ancient discipline that can be traced centuries back. Fast forward to modern times, and it’s probably most synonymous with difficult (and seemingly unlikely for beginners) physical poses, breathing techniques, and exercise mats. At its core, yoga is all about strengthening and training both the body and mind to achieve a more prominent sense of balance and direction over one’s being.
When expressed in these terms, it makes sense that doing yoga would help with an anxiety disorder. So, the team at New York University went out to gather some scientific data to that effect. By the end of their work, they found that yoga is significantly more effective at healing GAD than standard stress management techniques.
“Generalized anxiety disorder is a very common condition, but still, many are unwilling or unable to access evidence-based treatments,” states lead study author, Naomi M. Simon, MD, from the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, in a press release. “Our findings demonstrate that yoga, which is safe and widely available, can improve symptoms for some people with this disorder and could be a valuable tool in an overall treatment plan.”
However, as effective as yoga can get, researchers also pointed out that CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is still more helpful for GAD patients. CBT is a form of talk therapy concentrated more on identifying and doing away with negative thought patterns. Still, they say yoga represents a great stress-relief avenue for people trying a different method.
“Many people are already seeking complementary and alternative interventions, including yoga, to treat anxiety,” Dr. Simon continues. “This study suggests that at least short-term there is significant value for people with a generalized anxiety disorder to give yoga a try to see if it works for them. Yoga is well-tolerated, easily accessible, and it has several health benefits.”
A total of 226 men and women, all of whom are diagnosed with GAD, took part in the study. Each participant was assigned randomly to one of three groups: a Kundalini yoga group, a CBT group, and a standardized stress-management education group. Each of those three programs consisted of weekly two-hour sessions which run for three months.
Participants included in the CBT group were taught techniques for muscle-relaxation, psychoeducational principles, and cognitive interventions centered on identifying and changing negative thought patterns. Yoga participants were taught how to meditate, they are also taught different physical poses, breathing techniques, and relaxation exercises. Lastly, people in the stress-management group were given lectures on the general negative health implications of stress and educated on how lifestyle changes (exercise, healthy diet, cutting back on alcohol/tobacco) can lead to a decrease in the frequency of anxious feelings. When the three months came to an end, the researchers checked in to see the developments from the three programs, and how it had helped reduce stress.
Right after the classes ended, it was already evident that both yoga and CBT are superior options in contrast to traditional stress-management education. Specifically, 71% of patients with GAD who entered in CBT saw their symptoms improve, and 54% of those practicing yoga met the same “meaningful symptom improvement” criteria. Approximately, only 33% of participants getting stress education enjoyed GAD symptom improvement.
Then, after another three months had passed, they followed up with study subjects once more to assess the long-term effects of the strategies. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy showed that the most lingering effect in terms of reducing worries or anxiety, but to be fair, one can’t expect yoga sessions that happened three months ago to help with the anxieties we have today. To get the anxiety-relieving benefits linked with yoga, one has to continue to practice it regularly.
In summary, yoga is not considered a guaranteed cure-all for anxiety, stress, and worry. It can help in calming the body and mind. Most importantly, it encourages a greater sense of control over one’s thoughts – which would be a welcome relief for most GAD patients.
“We need more options to treat anxiety because different people will respond to different interventions and having more options can help overcome barriers to care,” Dr. Simon closes. “Having a range of effective treatments can increase the likelihood people with anxiety will be willing to engage in evidence-based care.”