Yoga shown to improve anxiety, study shows

August 12, 2020

Yoga improves symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, a condition with chronic nervousness and worry, suggesting the popular practice may be helpful in treating anxiety in some people.

Led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, a new study found that yoga was significantly more effective for generalized anxiety disorder than standard education on stress management, but not effective as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the gold standard form of structured talk therapy that helps patients identify negative thinking for better responses to challenges.

"Generalized anxiety disorder is a very common condition, yet many are not willing or able to access evidence-based treatments," says lead study author Naomi M. Simon, MD, a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU Langone Health. "Our findings demonstrate that yoga, which is safe and widely available, can improve symptoms for some people with this disorder and could be a valuable tool in an overall treatment plan."

For the study, publishing online Aug. 12 in JAMA Psychiatry, 226 men and women with generalized anxiety disorder were randomly assigned to three groups - either CBT, Kundalini yoga, or stress-management education, a standardized control technique.

After three months, both CBT and yoga were found to be significantly more effective for anxiety than stress management. Specifically, 54 percent of those who practiced yoga met response criteria for meaningfully improved symptoms compared to 33 percent in the stress-education group. Of those treated with CBT, 71 percent met these symptom improvement criteria.

However, after six months of follow-up, the CBT response remained significantly better than stress education (the control therapy), while yoga was no longer significantly better, suggesting CBT may have more robust, longer-lasting anxiety-reducing effects.

Study Details

The study involved an evidence-based protocol for CBT treatment of generalized anxiety disorder, including psychoeducation, cognitive interventions (focused on identifying and adapting maladaptive thoughts and worrying), and muscle relaxation techniques.

Kundalini yoga included physical postures, breathing techniques, relaxation exercises, yoga theory, and meditation/mindfulness practice.

The stress-management education control group received lectures about the physiological, psychological and medical effects of stress, as well as the antianxiety effects of lifestyle behaviors, such as reducing alcohol and smoking, and the importance of exercise and a healthy diet. Homework consisted of listening to educational material about stress, nutrition, and lifestyle.

Each treatment was administered in groups of three to six participants, over weekly two-hour sessions for 12 weeks with 20 minutes of daily homework assigned.

Can Yoga Help Treat Anxiety?

According to researchers, generalized anxiety disorder is a common, impairing, and undertreated condition, currently affecting an estimated 6.8 million Americans. While most people feel anxious from time to time, it is considered a disorder when worrying becomes excessive and interferes with day-to-day life. CBT is considered the gold standard first-line treatment. Medications, including antidepressants and sometimes benzodiazepines, may also be used. Yet, not everyone is willing to take medication which can have adverse side effects and there are challenges with accessing CBT for many, including lack of access to trained therapists and long waitlists.

"Many people already seek complementary and alternative interventions, including yoga, to treat anxiety," says Dr. Simon. "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. Yoga is well-tolerated, easily accessible, and has a number of health benefits."

According to Dr. Simon, future research should aim to understand who is most likely to benefit from yoga for generalized anxiety disorder to help providers better personalize treatment recommendations.

"We need more options to treat anxiety because different people will respond to different interventions, and having more options can help overcome barriers to care," she says. "Having a range of effective treatments can increase the likelihood people with anxiety will be willing to engage in evidence-based care."
-end-
Along with Dr. Simon, other authors of this study include Stefan G. Hofmann of Boston University in Mass.; David Rosenfield at Southern Methodist University in Dallas; Susanne S. Hoeppner and Eric Bui of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston; Elizabeth A. Hoge of Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.; and Sat Bir S Khalsa, of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Funding for the work came from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health grants R01 AT007258 and R01 AT007257 to Drs. Simon and Hofmann.

MEDIA INQUIRIES:

Ashley Welch
(212) 404-3511
Ashley.welch@nyulangone.org

NYU Langone Health / NYU School of Medicine

Related Science Articles from Brightsurf:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.

Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.

Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.

World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.

PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.

Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.

Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.

Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.

Read More: Science News and Science Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.