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Combatting Anxiety Through Gentle Movement:

Can You Ohm Your Way to Less Anxiety?

By Lex Barber

Combatting Anxiety Through Gentle Movement_ Can You Ohm Your Way To Less Anxiety_

Those suff ering from anxiety disorders rarely seek medical assistance as early or as often as perhaps could be most benefi cial
for them; and when they do, the costly American healthcare system can see many having to go without the prescription
or psychotherapy treatments that could help them best. While SSRIs and therapy have long been considered the fi rst line of
defense against anxiety there is much to be said for a gentler, more physical approach - and best of all, it can be free!


Th ere exists few medical practitioners who don’t encourage their patients to exercise gently and move their body where they’re
able. With physical health and endorphin release being benefi cial to all, no matter any ongoing medical conditions, such
movement is often underrated: particularly in the United States, where it’s estimated that over 41% of adults and 19% of
children and adolescents have obesity.


While the concept of exercise being healthy is not a new one, evidence does now suggest that it could be especially benefi cial
to those suff ering with anxiety.

 

THE EVIDENCE: YOGA

Yoga is a Hindu discipline of exercise involving breath control, basic meditative principles and the adoption of various bodily postures; usually in a slow and controlled manner. It’s estimated that across the US, around 8% of the adult population report having previously partaken in or actively partaking in yoga. The US National Health Interview Survey found that some 78% of participants noted the reason for their yogic activity was ‘general wellness or disease prevention’, although this did not specifically note anxiety or other mental illness concerns. A small study in 20171 on 24 young adults subjected participants to a single acute psychological stressor (in this case, a math task). After the task was complete, all then participated in a single video-based session of Hatha yoga. Upon completion of the yoga session, overall levels of blood pressure were reduced, salivary cortisol reactivity was reduced, and participants reported increased levels of self-confidence. Indeed the ongoing meditative effects of consistent yoga practice may help participants gather a feeling of inner calm. A study held in Iran of female- only participants used the DASS-21 (Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21) to monitor wellbeing while subjecting them to four weeks of regular Hatha yoga sessions lasting between 60- 70 mins three times a week. The results afterward were stunning: with depression, anxiety and stress all having decreased significantly in every participant after 12 sessions of regularly-timed yoga.

THE EVIDENCE: YOGA NIDRA

Yoga nidra, or yogic sleep, is a practice of guided meditation usually led by a yoga teacher at the end of a class. It aims to induce participants into a state consciousness somewhere between waking and sleeping. Those participating usually lie flat on their back along a yoga mat or floor, but it can also be completed sitting up for those with mobility issues. A less intense form of yoga nidra, known as the savasana rest period, often substitutes a full meditative state where classes are time constrained. A study of 60 college professors3 , both men and women, was carried out over a three month period to analyze the impact of yoga nidra and other meditation practices on their levels of stress and anxiety. Splitting participants into one of three randomly allocated groups, they took part in either regular yoga nidra practice, seated meditation practice, or no such mindfulness practice at all, and their ongoing mental state was monitored. Both groups undergoing intervention through mindfulness techniques demonstrated better results than the control group in all variables - with the yoga nidra intervention proving the most beneficial regarding anxiety across both cognitive and physiological symptoms experienced.

THE EVIDENCE: TAI CHI & QI GONG

Tai Chi and Qi Gong are Chinese self-cultivation exercises characterized by coordinating body posture and movements with deep rhythmic breathing. A popular exercise method with older people, Tai Chi has been proven to reduce anxiety amongst those formally diagnosed with anxiety disorders alongside the provision of medical therapy. Anxiety recurrence rates were significantly lowered in those partaking in Tai Chi compared to those now (9.09% vs 42.86%). Furthermore, a study focusing on Qi Gong-based stress reduction exercises5 found reductions in state and trait anxiety amongst participants.

WHY GENTLE MOVEMENT

There is no one body type more likely to suffer from anxiety disorders than another, but it is worth noting that exercise can be dangerous if not completed properly and within safe parameters for the individual. As a result, it is critical that patients do not embark on an exercise regime that is too strenuous or may cause injury, as the possibility remains that they may indeed trigger further anxiety as a result of physical stress. What’s more, the prevalence of online and remote exercise resources allows for more people than ever before to access free and varied programmes of movement. This wider accessibility is particularly helpful to those with restricted financial means, a lack of insurance coverage, geographically isolated from athletic hubs or facilities, and/or suffering from mental illness so critically that they have anxiety triggered by leaving the house. This allows doctors and medical professionals to suggest gentle movement as a more realistic treatment choice, knowing that it is well in reach for most. Whether it be a five-minute yoga sequence on the living room floor, an hour-long tai chi class or a block walk, gentle exercise can provide a mind-and-body connection to boost mood, alleviate stress and help combat overall anxiety levels. There's no one-size-fits-all exercise approach that will work for all as there isn’t for pharmaceutical intervention, but the ease of adoption of gentle movement allows most patients to try it out and find what works for them. With the backing of several clinical studies now demonstrating its efficacy in reducing anxiety, clinicians can rest easy in the knowledge that recommendation of light exercise is likely to be beneficial - a fantastic, cost-effective and accessible method of reducing a patient's mental suffering.

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