Thursday, September 3, 2020

Feeling Anxious? Yoga Can Help Soothe You

Yoga may help people soothe frayed nerves during the coronavirus pandemic, but the ancient practice may also help those with more serious, chronic forms of anxiety, new research suggests.

The study compared yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and stress management for treating people with generalized anxiety disorder. While cognitive behavioral therapy remains the preferred first-line treatment for anxiety, yoga -- specifically Kundalini yoga -- outperformed stress management education during the initial 12 weeks of the study.

When the researchers followed up six months later, CBT was the most effective treatment of the three. The effects from yoga and stress education had leveled off after six months.

"Generalized anxiety disorder is a chronic, impairing condition that's undertreated. Many people don't seek or can't access care, so while there are effective treatments available, we need more options for people to overcome barriers to care," said study author Dr. Naomi Simon. She's a professor in the department of psychiatry at NYU Langone Health, in New York City.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychological therapy. It's designed to help people identify and change negative ways of thinking, according to the American Psychological Association.

The study used a type of yoga known as Kundalini. Simon said this type of yoga involves 3 components: exercise (posing), a concentration on breathing & a mindfulness or meditative component. She said other types of yoga that rely on these components would likely be similarly helpful.

The stress management treatment was a class that provided education about health and wellness topics, Simon noted.

The study included more than 225 volunteers with generalized anxiety disorder. Their average age was 33 and about 30% were male.

The volunteers were randomly placed into one of the three treatment groups: Kundalini yoga; CBT; or stress education.

After 12 weeks of treatment, the researchers found that yoga and CBT bested stress education. But yoga wasn't quite as effective at easing anxiety as CBT. At a six-month follow-up, CBT was clearly more effective than the other treatments. By this point, yoga and stress education showed similar levels of effectiveness in treating anxiety.

"This study is very timely in the era of COVID. It's important that we have treatment options, and we found some evidence that yoga has short-term effects for decreasing anxiety," Simon said.

While the researchers didn't look at the effects of doing these treatments via telehealth or if someone did yoga on their own at home, Simon said she thinks yoga is "worth trying because it wouldn't be harmful," and if someone is having trouble accessing care due to the pandemic, it at least gives them an option for reducing their anxiety.

But she said to try yoga that focuses on the three components, and she recommended that people don't worry much about achieving "perfect poses." She said if you're interested in trying yoga to ease your anxiety, it's important to commit to doing it regularly. Simon suggested at least 20 minutes a day.