Some anxiety is healthy and beneficial. However, excessive anxiety can cause distress and interferes with daily living. So, how do you work on coping with anxiety? By balancing mind and body with these yoga therapy approved coping tools for anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is related to fear, fear of the future to be more precise. And this fear manifests in your body through the fight or flight response.
When your mind recognizes a threat, physical and psychological changes occur with the activation of the fight or flight response that humans and animals alike experience. This response is beneficial because it allows us to escape or fight danger. Anxiety is your body’s natural response to stress and threat. So, what’s the problem?
The issue for many with anxiety is that it never turns off, is activated too quickly, or responds too strongly. For these people, their body has a stress response that is activated by an unregulated nervous system leading it to scan and anticipate potential threats continuously – anxiety is a fear of the future. When you perceive a threat, your body reacts the same, whether it is a physical or psychological threat. And if you’re always afraid of something in the future, you may be living in a chronic state of anxiety and dis-regulation.
Yoga for Anxiety
A yogic approach to anxiety works well because it addresses the nervous system and helps re-regulate the system. Because the hard thing about anxiety is that it’s not just thoughts, but the accompanying extreme physiological response. You may recognize there is nothing dangerous or threatening. However, your body still responds panicked, and it’s hard for anyone to manage at the moment.
Traditionally, yoga has been more of a spiritual, mental practice than the physical one of today’s era. Traditional yoga was a complete way of life that incorporated breathing techniques and the cultivation of mental discipline. Although modern yoga emphasizes a small fraction of the more extensive system yoga was intended to be, it does prove beneficial as you focus on movement and breath with each asana, bringing you into present moment awareness.
Meditation and present moment focus helps combat both the physical sensations and the snowballing of thoughts at accompanying anxiety. Again, anxiety is fear of the future, and anything that keeps you present is helpful. By paying attention to how each physical posture in a yoga class feels and maintaining focus on your breath as you flow into different poses keeps you firmly anchored.
Are you interested in learning more about how to meditate to relieve anxiety? Check out our Meditation for Anxiety Management course here
Yoga Therapy Coping Tools for Anxiety
There are many techniques for coping with anxiety because no one tool works in all situations, and everyone benefits differently with each tool. Experiment to figure out your solutions, but keep in mind context. Different solutions will prove more beneficial at certain times and in different situations.
Also, remember anxiety affects each of us multi-directionally: behaviorally, cognitively, and physically. As you try all the different options, work to find a solution that positively influences the different ways anxiety affects you.
Lifestyle Changes for Anxiety:
- Exercise in the morning, when cortisol is highest, for 10 to 30 minutes.
- Eat lots of fresh, warm foods.
- Minimize or reduce sugar intake.
- Reduce, or eliminate, stimulates in the morning (i.e., caffeine).
- Meditate, ideally for 20 minutes, daily. Any length of regular meditation time is valuable, so start with the amount of time that is available to you.
- Work towards setting boundaries and saying no to new tasks when you are overworked or if tasks don’t align with your values.
- Take yoga classes to build strength and confidence in yourself.
- Pencil into your routine time to do things you enjoy, but don’t add to your overall stress.
Personal Reflections to help Manage anxiety:
- Question what is motivating some of your expectations of yourself. Are they social constructs of where “you should be?” Are they based on your values and what is important to you?
- Learn what you need to from each situation and forgive yourself for your mistakes. Ruminating on past experiences only feeds anxiety and takes you away from the beauty of today.
- Contemplate what is out of alignment in your life. Is there any area you are overindulging? Are you grasping for too much? What can you let go of to find more balance?
- Look back on different anxiety producing situations in your life to determine if a pattern is emerging. Recognizing if a pattern is present helps you better prepare, and manage, your next anxiety attack.
“In The Moment” Coping Tools for Anxiety
- Take slow deep breaths, with longer exhales than inhales. Continue breathing in this fashion for 3 minutes. If exaggerated exhales are too much, work to balance and match the length of each inhale and exhale instead.
- Massage your hand, which will activate a “feel good” hormone called oxytocin and bring you into the present moment through physical movements.
- State the emotion that you are feeling in words, such as “I am worried right now.” Allow yourself to feel the energy this emotion brings inside you. You may be surprised how quickly it lessens when you allow it to be.
- Think about what is positive in your life. When in an anxious moment, it’s easy to focus on the bad and ignore the good.
- Take a mindful minute and work on a task 25% slower than you typically would.
- Be creative by crafting art with your hands, such as drawing, coloring or knitting. Allowing yourself to be creative (without self-judgment) strengthens your frontal lobe, which helps manage the fight or flight response, and the tactile movement grounds you to the present moment.
Getting Help Along the Way
Yoga is not a quick fix for everything. However, there is evidence that yoga is an effective method for reducing and managing anxiety. With the right guidance and regular practice, these yoga therapy coping tools for anxiety can make a positive impact.
Yoga in itself is a therapeutic practice, but if you are struggling with anxiety, specialized advice, and personalized teaching with a yoga therapist may greatly benefit you. Yoga therapists have training beyond yogic traditions that a detailed understanding of many medical, physical, and psychological conditions. Also, several yoga therapists have advanced training, like mental health counseling, that complements the yogic approach and can help you even further.
If you are interested in learning more about yogic coping tools for anxiety, I highly recommend you work with a yoga therapist to develop a personalized plan to set you up for success today and down the road. If you are in the Chicago-land area, reach out to Wholistic Care to learn more today. Otherwise, the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) can help you find someone closer to home.
Stephanie Gutzmer, Au.D., E-RYT
Stephanie is a certified yoga instructor and life coach, specializing in health and mindfulness coaching, and holds a doctorate in audiology, specializing in tinnitus. She is working towards her yoga therapist certification. Stephanie collaborates with her clients to develop an individualized plan of specific goals and provides guidance to overcome practical and emotional barriers in reaching them. Her unique background and training allows her to support her clients in ways that make positive physical, mental health and well-being change in their lives.