I would have a hard time finding anyone in this world who has never experienced stress, anxiety, and/or depression. In fact, although I don’t have the science to back this up, I think it might be impossible. Some of us experience these emotions more than others, but regardless, everyone has felt these emotions at some point in their lives. For most people, one of the most challenging things to want to do when you’re feeling like this is to get some exercise. BUT exercise is also one of the most beneficial things for you do.
Let’s start with stress. Your body releases specific hormones when it is in a state of stress. When stress is short-lived these hormones can give you extra drive and energy until the stressful situation is over. However, depending on the situation, personality type, lack of effective coping skills, and/or poor social support some individuals may have a difficult time turning stress “off”. This is called “chronic stress”. Chronic stress harms our immune system and can lead to diseases such as obesity, cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and several others1.
While I think everyone can report feeling “stressed” at some point over the last year, anxiety and depression are also on the rise. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), Major Depressive Disorder is the #1 cause of disability for 15-44 year olds in the US, with more than 16.1 million Americans diagnosed. ADAA also reports anxiety disorders as the most common mental illness in the US, with more the 40 million people in the US diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
Even if you have not been formally diagnosed and/or do not meet the criteria of a depression or anxiety disorder, we can still experience symptoms of each. Grieving for pre-covid times, loneliness, anxiety about change in work-loads, fear of failing in new routines, and/or increased negative self talk are all things you may be feeling. I think it’s important to state the obvious- you’re not alone. This has been a tough year full of change.
Now we can say that yoga helps with stress, anxiety, and depression…but does the research agree?
Although research cannot come to a conclusion on how often to do yoga to get optimal results, various research studies can agree that yoga helps reduce stress and depression (keep reading in regards to anxiety). According to an article published in the American Family Physician4, yoga has reduced symptoms of depression in multiple systematic reviews. This is strengthened by a randomized controlled trial that was published in 2016, reporting significant reduction in symptoms of depression following 6-weeks of yoga5.
On a broader scale, a study published in the International Journal of Preventative Medicine3 found a statistically significant reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression was reported by women following 12 yoga sessions (3x/week for 4 weeks, with each session lasting 60-70 minutes). This is however slightly different than a couple other articles I read. Other studies are finding that although yoga can assist with reduction in symptoms of anxiety this is not as significant as the effects of yoga on depression4,5. Because of this, yoga may be best in combination with seeing a mental health professional and/or taking anti-anxiety medication4.
Here are some tips to help:
- Discuss how you are feeling with your primary care provider. Please. These emotions, although common, are not normal to experience long-term. Reach out to a trusted provider and discuss these feelings with them for guidance.
- Give yourself affirmations throughout the day (e.g. I am loved. I am strong. I am at peace.)
- Set an intention for your practice to add meaning vs “because I’m supposed to” (e.g. I am giving myself this time to invest in myself)
- Try different types of yoga to see which style you enjoy the most.
- Grab a friend to do some yoga with you. Even if it’s virtual, having someone to laugh with is always uplifting.
- Instead of taking a class, roll out your yoga mat and just play. See what feels good!
- Get into a consistent yoga/exercise routine. Read my last two blog posts on environmental and lifestyle barriers to further help with this.
Comment below if you have more tips to share with others ♥
- Singh, V.P., Khandelwal, B., & Sherpa, N.T. (2015). Psycho-neuro-endocrine-immune mechanisms of action of yoga in type II diabetes. Ancient Science of Life, 35(1);12-7. doi: 10.4103/0257-7941.165623
- Venkatesh, H.N., Ravish, H., Wilma Delphine Silvia, C.R., & Srinivas, H. (2020). Molecular signature of the immune response to yoga therapy in stress-related chronic disease conditions: An insight. International Journal of Yoga; 13(1), 9-17. doi: 10.4103/ijoy.IJOY_82_18
- Shohani, M., Badfar, G., Nasirkandy, M.P., Kaikhavani, S., Rahmati, S., Modmeli, Y., Soleymani, A., & Azami, M. (2018). The effect of yoga on stress, anxiety, and depression in women. International Journal of Preventative Medicine, 9(21). doi: 10.4103/ijpvm.IJPVM_242_16.
- Saeed, S.A., Cunningham, K., & Bloch, R.M. (2019). Depression and anxiety disorders: Benefits of exercise, yoga, and meditation. American Family Physician, 99(10), 620-627.
- Manincor, M., Bensoussan, A., Smith, C., Barr, K., Schweickle, M., Donoghoe, L.L., Bourchier, S., & Fahrey, P. (2016). Individualized yoga for reducing depression and anxiety, and improving well-being: A randomized controlled trial. Depression and Anxiety, 33(9), 816-828.
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