While everyone feels anxious from time to time – especially during a global pandemic – anxiety becomes a danger to health when worrying becomes excessive and interferes with one’s day-to-day life. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) has become the most commonly diagnosed mental health condition in the U.S., and is now estimated to affect close to 7 million Americans.
The “gold standard” for treating GAD is cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of structured talk therapy that helps patients identify and change their anxious thinking patterns. A recent study conducted at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine found that doing yoga regularly can also help improve GAD symptoms significantly – leading health experts there to call yoga a “safe, widely available and valuable tool in an overall treatment plan” for anxiety.
During the study, about 225 men and women with GAD were randomly assigned to three groups – either weekly cognitive behavioral therapy, regular Kundalini yoga practice, or standard stress-management education. After three months, 54% percent of those who practiced yoga met criteria for significantly improved anxiety symptoms, compared to 71% in the therapy group and 33% in the stress-education group. After a six-month follow up, however, those receiving therapy had better control of their anxiety symptoms than those in both the yoga and stress education groups.
“Generalized anxiety disorder is a very common condition, yet many are not willing or able to access evidence-based treatments [such as therapy],” said Dr. Naomi M. Simon, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. “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.”