This one is written from the heart. To all of you out there who are troubled by anxiety I hope you find a way to redefine its impact upon you. Maybe some of these ideas will help. Anxiety is part of the human condition. We all have it to varying degrees and it serves a purpose. An adrenaline boost from time to time may be just what is required to get us through a difficult situation. However anxiety over spilling and permeating any and every aspect of life can become disruptive, distressing and disabling. More than that it can dominate one’s thinking and feelings to the point of being a truly terrifying experience.
So what to do about it? There are many ways of addressing anxiety. I do not want to explore the pros and cons of each method here. Neither do I wish to undermine anyone’s coping strategies. The medical model of anxiety management certainly has its place. After all that is part of my day job: to lay out options available and help people choose what is right for them. Medication, counselling Cognitive Behavioural Therapies and deeper psychological methods may be just what is needed. They are tools in a toolkit to help manage mood, feelings, thoughts and their consequences.
So I want to highlight another tool and in my opinion one of the best to help manage anxiety. I have said this before: yoga is an all-rounder, no-brainer amazing activity to boost your wellbeing. If you were to design a new treatment for any medical condition, physical or psychological, yoga ticks so many of the boxes. It brings exercise together with a mindful and social approach that is accessible to all. Anxiety busting is high on the benefits list.
Those of us who know yoga have come to it for a reason. It may be for a physical reason; back pain, fitness, weight-loss or better posture etcetera. This purely physical perspective may be what we share with friends and colleagues when we discuss why we first got on a mat. But if you dare to have a deeper conversation with your fellow yogis many will acknowledge that it is the mood boosting effect that drew them to yoga AND keeps them coming. “It’s the mental health benefits that I’m after baby”, to quote Ernest Yogi.
A one-off yoga session is top notch for stress busting. After the physical work the body can relax on a cushion of calm, deep and steady breath. There is also a sense of well being which accompanies the achievement of completing a class and challenging your body. Practice regularly and you will build on this, not least from the commitment of turning up regularly, the structure this provides, the social interaction and the general physical health improvements. All of these help with anxiety. The breath aspect of yoga develops over time. Linking movement with inhalation and exhalation shifts attention away from the distractions of an overactive anxious mind. The breath may become a tool to navigate intense physical experiences, and in turn help with the intensity of anxiety.
Commit yet further and you may explore a mindful even meditative aspect of the practice. In essence developing a new relationship and perspective towards anxiety. The longer-term goal is to bring what is practiced in class and on the mat into day-to-day life and experiences.
What are the side effects of this intervention to manage anxiety? Well you might sleep better, you may consider more carefully what you eat and generally be more health conscious. You might get a bit of ribbing from your mates. If you get really into it yoga can be quite time consuming, but otherwise I’m hard pushed to find any down sides.
So if you were to design a state of the art therapy to help manage anxiety what would you want from it? Something that you can access easily any time or place. Something that gives benefits from day one but furnishes the potential to build upon it over a lifetime. Something that stays with you even when you are not practising. This is yoga.