Anxiety seems to be on the rise nowadays. According to a 2018 poll released by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), 40% of respondents said they felt more anxious than a year ago. The poll asked the respondents to rate their anxiety in five different areas of life: health, safety, finances, relationships and politics.
“I’ve only just realized how utterly exhausted and drained I am after living in a near constant state of fight or flight for so long.” – Unknown
This year’s national anxiety score is 51 (on a scale of 0-100), which is an increase from 46 last year. Anxiety didn’t seem to discriminate based on age, race, ethnicity, or gender; increases were seen across the board. However, by generation, millennials showed more anxiety than Gen X or baby boomers. Baby boomers’ anxiety went up by seven points between 2017 and 2018, making them the generation with the highest increase.
Americans showed more anxiousness in all five areas (health, safety, finances, relationships, and politics); however, the greatest increase in anxiety was about finances. Nearly 75% of women and young adults (18 – 34) and nearly 80% of Hispanic adults are slightly to severely anxious about money.
Overall, 39% of people admitted to being more anxious this year than they were last year.
Since anxiety seems to be at an all-time high, it’s important to understand anxiety and its causes and symptoms in order to understand how to manage it effectively.
Facts About Anxiety
Here are a few statistics about anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA):
- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness affecting Americans, with 40 million adults (18.1% of the population) age 18 and older suffering from one every year.
- Anxiety disorders respond very well to treatment, yet only 36.9% of those with an anxiety disorder actually seek and receive treatment.
- Those with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for a psychiatric condition than those who don’t have an anxiety disorder.
- Anxiety disorders develop from a complex combination of factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.
Types of Anxiety
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
GAD affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, yet only 43.2% of those suffering receive treatment.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) involves excessive and persistent worry about many different things. People with GAD usually think in terms of the worst-case scenario and may worry obsessively about money, health, family, work, or other life issues.
People with GAD have a very difficult time controlling their worries. They may have unwarranted worries about events that haven’t happened yet or aren’t even expected to happen. Even when it seems there is nothing to worry about, people with GAD can’t help but think of all the scenarios that might happen so they can mentally prepare themselves.
GAD is diagnosed when an individual finds it difficult to control their worry the majority of days for at least six months. Additionally, they display three or more relevant symptoms. Women have twice the likelihood of being affected. The disorder comes on gradually and can begin at any age, though most people with GAD have an onset between childhood and midlife. The exact cause of GAD is unknown, though genetics, family background, and stressful life events are believed to play a role.
People with anxiety believe worry helps them to prevent bad situations from happening, so they don’t want to give up this perceived safety net. People with GAD often experience physical symptoms like headaches and stomachaches.
Panic Disorder (PD)
PD affects 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the U.S. population.
Panic disorder is diagnosed in those who experience frequent, spontaneous panic attacks and are preoccupied with the fear of an upcoming attack. Panic attacks can occur out-of-the-blue, even when a person is just waking up. This disorder usually begins after age 20, but even children can have panic disorder and can experience “fearful spells” as an early symptom.
About 2-3% of Americans will have panic disorder in a year, and it is twice as common in women as men. Panic disorder can completely disrupt a person’s life, causing them to miss work, schedule frequent doctor visits, and avoid places where they think they might have another attack. The severity of symptoms and disruption to daily life increase when the person also has agoraphobia.
Many people who have panic disorder don’t know that their disorder responds well to treatment, and many don’t even know what they’re suffering from. Some people are embarrassed or afraid to talk about what they’re experiencing. As a result, many with panic disorder isolate themselves to minimize symptoms and avoid talking about it with others.
Social Anxiety Disorder
SAD affects 15 million adults, or 6.8% of the U.S. population.
Social anxiety disorder, or social phobia, is characterized by immense anxiety in social situations, fear of being judged or rejected, and hyperawareness of oneself. People with social anxiety disorder tend to worry a lot about their appearance, mannerisms, and ability to converse with others, and feel that everyone can tell that they’re anxious. Symptoms of social anxiety include blushing, stuttering, stumbling over words, or freezing during a conversation.
Other physical symptoms of social anxiety include a fast heart rate, upset stomach, nausea, sweating, and panic attacks. As with other anxiety disorders, those with social anxiety often feel that they can’t control it.
Social anxiety disorder is the second most commonly diagnosed anxiety disorder after specific phobias. Most people with social anxiety disorder will have it by the time they’re a teenager, though some report feeling extremely shy as a child as well. However, shyness and social anxiety are two different things – one is a character trait, and the other is an actual disorder.
Social anxiety disorder can greatly interfere with a person’s life. For example, some people may avoid jobs that involve dealing with the public or choose to miss social engagements with friends. Symptoms can be so severe that they interfere with responsibilities such as jobs, school, going to interviews, getting groceries and doing other errands, and maintaining friendships and relationships. People with social anxiety disorder are at a heightened risk of developing major depressive disorder and substance abuse problems.
Social anxiety is highly treatable, yet less than 5% of people seek treatment within a year of experiencing symptoms. In fact, more than one-third report having symptoms for 10 years or more before seeking help.
Specific phobias affect 19 million adults, or 8.7% of the U.S. population.
A lot of people have things they are afraid of, such as spiders, elevators, or heights. Most of us try to avoid what makes us uncomfortable, but when faced with our fears, we can usually overcome them and go on with our day without issue.
However, people with specific phobias, or strong irrational fears, try their hardest to avoid contact with the situations, places, or things that trigger their fight-or-flight reaction. Even though the fear is irrational and they know it doesn’t pose a real threat, they don’t know how to stop it.
People who have obsessive, irrational fears in the presence of or before exposure to a specific object, place, or situation have a specific phobia. Phobias can make it hard to carry out daily tasks, such as going to work and doing errands. It can also reduce productivity and self-esteem, and put a strain on relationships since the sufferer will do whatever they can to avoid their fears. This might mean having to change plans regularly due to the phobia.
Some phobias begin in childhood, but most happen unexpectedly, usually during teenage years or young adulthood. They usually begin suddenly, and the phobia might be something that never caused the person any anxiety prior to the onset. Common phobias include certain animals, insects, germs, driving, heights, storms, flying, surgery, and elevators.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
OCD affects 2.2 million adults, or 1.0% of the U.S. population.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) affects millions of people across the world. Currently, approximately 1 in 40 adults and 1 in 100 children in the U.S. has OCD. OCD is characterized by obsessions (intrusive thoughts or images that cause extreme anxiety) and compulsions (behaviors that a person performs in order to cope with their anxiety). The behaviors can be physical actions or thoughts.
Common obsessions include anxiety about hygiene, contamination, impulses, and the need for symmetry. Common compulsions include checking things multiple times, washing or cleaning, and arranging items. People with OCD often experience many different obsessions and compulsions, and there isn’t always a connection between the two.
Children and teens with OCD might not realize their behaviors or thoughts are excessive or abnormal.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD affects 7.7 million adults, or 3.5% of the U.S. population.
People who have been through a traumatic event tend to have flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive memories following the tragedy or stressor, such as 9/11, active combat, or a school shooting.
Your nervous system is trying to process what you saw or went through, so be patient with it. Avoid negative things that could be a trigger such as news reports. Try to spend time doing things you enjoy and connect with loved ones as much as possible.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a severe, sometimes debilitating disorder that can develop in people who have experienced a tragedy such as a natural disaster, motor vehicle accident, terrorist attack, death of a family member, combat, sexual assault, or other near-death experiences. Research has shown that PTSD in soldiers may occur due to a physical brain injury caused by combat blasts.
Most people who go through such traumatic events eventually recover from them, but people with PTSD experience severe symptoms months or even years after the event.
Women are twice as likely to suffer from PTSD as men, and even children can develop it. PTSD often co-occurs with anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and depression.
Now that we’ve discussed different types of anxiety, we’ll move on to how you can use yoga to ease your symptoms and slow down your thinking.
10 Yoga Poses That Relieve Anxiety and Stop Overthinking
How Does Yoga Help Cure Anxiety?
Yoga gives off feel-good hormones and allows the body to move into a state of harmony with the mind. According to Harvard Health Publishing, available studies of yoga practices suggest that yoga can help modulate stress responses and reduce perceived stress. Therefore, anxiety will be lessened as stress levels decrease. Stretching helps to calm your mind by easing tension in your muscles, which helps the stress in your mind melt away as well.
Here are some beginner poses to help you relax and ease into the practice.
1. Ustrasana (Camel Pose)
Ustrasana is the ultimate stretch for your back and abs. It helps improve strength and flexibility, and is a perfect way for a novice to begin a yoga practice. It helps increase blood flow throughout the body, which helps regulate your blood pressure and heart rate, thus lowering anxiety.
To do this pose, kneel on your mat and place your hands on your hips. Make sure your knees and shoulders are aligned and that the soles of your feet face the ceiling. Then, inhale, push your hips and tailbone out, and arch your back. Slide your palms over your feet and straighten your arms.
Make sure to keep your neck in a neutral position, and only lean it back if it doesn’t hurt (that’s more of an advanced move). Hold the pose 30 to 60 seconds.
2. Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)
This is another great stretch for your back, neck and chest. To do this pose, lie flat on your back, bend your knees, and place your feet on the floor hip-width apart. Make sure that your knees and ankles are aligned; then, inhale and lift your back off the floor. Roll your shoulders in and keep your chin resting on your chest.
Tighten your buttocks and make sure your thighs are parallel to the floor. Lift your torso as high off the floor as you can and hold the pose for one minute. Breathe slowly and relax.
3. Baddha Konasana (Butterfly Pose)
This is one of the easiest poses on the list and helps to stretch your inner thighs and groin. To do this anxiety-reducing pose, all you have to do is sit up straight, stretch out your legs, and bend your knees as you pull your heels toward your pelvic area.
Press the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to drop to the sides. However, if you can’t keep your knees flat, don’t worry. Just stretch as much as you can. Place your thumbs on the arches of your feet. Keep your shoulders back and your chest up. Hold the pose for one to five minutes.
4. Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend)
Another great stretch for anxiety, the seated forward bend, will help stretch out your back and hamstrings. To do this stretch, sit up straight with your legs out in front of you. Flex your toes and raise your hands over your head. Stretch, inhale, and bring the arms slowly forward. If you can’t reach your toes, that’s fine; just stretch as far as you can.
Inhale and elongate your spine, and lean forward a little bit more. Exhale and move your navel toward your knees and lift your head slightly. Repeat this a few times. Then, place your head on your legs and hold the pose as long as you’d like.
Inhale and come back to the starting position with your arms outstretched. Exhale and lower your arms.
5. Dandasana (Staff Pose)
To strengthen your core, you definitely want to do this pose. It’s one of the easiest on the list and is perfect to ease into the more advanced poses. To perform this stretch, sit straight up with your legs stretched out in front of you. Your feet should be pointed upwards and your back straightened.
Press your buttocks to the floor and keep your head straight. This will help lengthen the spine and achieve good posture. With your feet pointed up and your heels pressed to the floor, put your palms next to your hips. This helps to support the spine and relax your shoulders and torso.
Make sure the entire lower half of your body is pressed to the floor, breathe deeply, and hold this pose for 20-30 seconds.
6. Utthita Trikonasana (Triangle Pose)
This is a wonderful pose for opening the body up and easing stress. To do this pose, stand up straight and place your legs about four feet apart. Place your right foot outside at 90 degrees and your left foot in at 15 degrees. Align the center of your right heel with the center of your left foot’s arch.
Balance your body on both feet, then take a deep breath. On the exhale, bend your body to the right from below your hips, and keep your waist straight. Lift your left hand up and allow your right hand to touch the floor. Make sure both your arms form a straight line.
If you can’t touch your right hand all the way to the floor, rest it on your shin or ankle. Let your head stay in a neutral position or turn it toward your left palm.
Your body should be bent sideways. Try to relax into this pose as much as possible and enjoy a deep stretch. When you’re ready, exhale and come up. Drop your arms to your side, straighten your feet, and repeat on the other side.
7. Marjariasana (Cow & Cat Pose)
For this pose, get on all fours and make sure that your hands are under your shoulders and your knees are hip-width apart. Keep your gaze straight ahead, inhale, and raise your tailbone. Push your navel down and hold the pose for a few breaths. This is the cow pose.
Then, do the opposite pose – the cat pose. Exhale, drop your chin down to your chest, arch your back, and relax the buttocks. Hold this pose for a few breaths as well. Do both moves five or six times before releasing and coming back to the starting position.
8. Balasana (Child’s Pose)
This is a wonderful, relaxing pose that helps to stretch the back, neck, and shoulders. To do this pose, simply kneel down on the floor with your big toes touching each other. Stretch your arms out in front of you and lean forward, spreading your knees hip-width apart. Lay the torso between the thighs and rest the crown of your head on the floor, if you can. If not, keep your head where it feels comfortable, and hold the pose for as long as you’d like.
9. Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)
This is a more difficult pose for a beginner, so don’t do this one if it doesn’t feel comfortable. However, if you’d like to try it, lie flat on your stomach with your legs hip-width apart. Gently fold your knees and reach your hands toward your ankles. Lift your chest and legs off the ground and pull the legs back.
Hold for 15-20 seconds before releasing.
10. Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
This is basically a meditation, a way to end your practice in a soothing, relaxing manner. Simply breathe deeply, relax your mind and body, and allow your thoughts to drift away. Keep your palms facing up and close your eyes. Do this for 10-12 minutes.
We hope you can find relief from anxiety and overthinking with these yoga poses. In our hectic world today, almost every deals with stress in some way, and stretching serves as an excellent way to release that built-up tension.
While anxiety can seem debilitating, these stretches will surely help to ease your symptoms. Yoga has been scientifically proven to help alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression, so if you’ve been searching for a natural remedy, why not give yoga a try? Your body and mind will definitely thank you!