Marked by chronic nervousness and worry, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can impact everything from work and school to relationships. Yoga can help sooth your anxiety symptoms.
Many people have anxiety that comes and goes. In fact, almost everyone worries at some point about finances, relationships, school performance, job issues, and countless other life issues. But near constant worrying that occurs relentlessly for six months or more is different — and it characterizes the common mental health problem know as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Different types of therapy (sometimes used with medication) can often successfully treat the condition. And now there’s another potential option to soothe GAD — yoga.
GAD is a common mental health problem in the U.S.
GAD is anything but uncommon. Almost six percent of U.S. adults experience symptoms of the condition some time in their lives, and almost 3 percent of American men and women struggled with generalized anxiety disorder symptoms over the past year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Generalized anxiety disorder can have a negative effect on quality of life when sufferers find it difficult to control their worry. It impacts their ability to function their best at work, in social activities, or other areas of life.
In addition to chronic worry, the NIMH points out GAD may cause these symptoms:
- Feeling constantly restless or tense
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Becoming easily fatigued
- Being irritable
- Experiencing tense muscles
- Having sleep problems, including insomnia or restless sleep
Treatments for GAD can include stress management help, psychotherapy and, less often, prescription anti-anxiety drugs or antidepressants. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the type of psychotherapy that has been shown to be especially effective in helping people with GAD. It teaches GAD sufferers different ways of thinking, behaving, and reacting to anxiety-producing and fearful objects and situations.
However, not everyone has access to psychotherapy, and it doesn’t necessarily work in all cases. The good news: Research into the impact of yoga on GAD shows it can be an effective alternative for many suffering from the anxiety condition.
Yoga is effective for GAD
The study, conducted by NYU Grossman School of Medicine researchers, found that while CBT is still considered the “gold standard” for GAD, yoga was significantly more effective for generalized anxiety disorder than standard counseling on stress management. Plus yoga offers an alternative way to treat generalized anxiety disorder.
“Generalized anxiety disorder is a very common condition, yet many are not willing or able to access evidence-based treatments,” says NYU psychiatry professor Naomi M. Simon, MD, lead author of the study. “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.”
For their study, the NYU research team randomly assigned 226 men and women diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder to three groups. One group received cognitive behavior therapy, another group received yoga instruction, and the third group participated in stress management education.
The results of the study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, showed that, after three months, CBT and yoga were significantly effective for anxiety and much more likely to help generalized anxiety disorder symptoms than stress management counseling.
While CBT showed the highest response (71 percent) to soothing GAD symptoms, yoga was also highly effective. In all, 54 percent of those who practiced yoga had meaningfully improved symptoms. The stress education group had the lowest improvement — only 33 percent met the symptom improvement criteria.
Bottom line? Yoga treats GAD successfully and is a treatment option
“This study suggests that at least short-term there is significant value for people with generalized anxiety disorder to give yoga a try to see if it works for them. Yoga is well-tolerated, easily accessible, and has a number of health benefits,” Simon notes.
She adds future research should focus on understanding who is most likely to benefit from yoga for GAD. This would help doctors and therapists better personalize treatment recommendations.
“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,” she explains. “Having a range of effective treatments can increase the likelihood people with anxiety will be willing to engage in evidence-based care.”
March 22, 2021
Janet O’Dell, RN