Managing Your Anxiety With Yoga & Mindfulness

Maybe it’s society’s always on the go mentality. Maybe it’s all the technology. Maybe it’s the political climate. No matter what the reason is, it seems like anxiety is becoming more and more of an issue every day for millions of Americans. In fact, according to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, over 40 million adults in the U.S. have an anxiety disorder making it the most common mental health concern in the country.

So what is an anxiety disorder? While we often use the term anxiety synonymously with stress, worry and nervousness, anxiety disorders are marked by the presence of intense fear and overwhelming distress that interferes with one’s daily life. Anxiety disorders can present themselves in various ways including phobias such as Agoraphobia, Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Many of the most common symptoms of anxiety disorders are physical in nature and may be confused with other physical health concerns. These physical symptoms of anxiety may include: increased heart rate, sweating, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue, insomnia and digestive issues.

From a physiological perspective, anxiety is our mental and physical reaction to a perceived threat– otherwise known as our fight or flight response. When this happens our brain floods our nervous system with adrenalin and cortisol (the stress hormone) designed to help us respond to the real or imagined threat.

Typically, mental health professionals will recommend psychotherapy, medication or a combination of both to treat anxiety disorders. If you are looking for a more holistic approach, practicing yoga has also been shown to decrease the symptoms of anxiety. The combination of breathwork, poses and meditation are what make yoga such a wonderful tool for individuals looking to better manage their anxiety.

Breathwork— As many yogis know the practice of pranayama helps to connect the mind and body. We breathe in and out unconsciously all day everyday. Controlling our breath, however, takes focus and attention. Deerga Swasam or Complete Yogic Breath allows the body to take in up to 7 times more oxygen than normal. It is a three part breath that helps to calm the nervous system. This in return allows the mind and body to relax. Another pranayma practice known as Nadi Shodana or Alternate Nostil Breathing helps balance the nervous system and both hemispheres of the brain.

Yoga Poses— A variety of yoga poses better known to yogis as asanas have been identified that specifically help to alleviate anxiety symptoms. Balasana or Child’s Pose is a restorative and calming pose that releases tension in the back, neck and shoulders where oftentimes people hold a lot of their stress. Balancing postures such as Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3) and Trikonasana (Triangle) take one’s mind off negative thoughts and worry by placing focus on the physical body. Viparita Karani or Legs Up The Wall in addition to relieving anxiety symptoms, reduces low back pain, manages blood pressure, regulates blood circulation and improves sleep. Other poses that help relieve anxiety by enabling better blood circulation include Setu Bhandhasana (Bridge), Ustrasana (Camel) and Marjariasana (Cat).

Meditation— What better way to reduce anxiety than to focus on the present moment? Sometimes with anxiety, it can feel like your brain won’t shut off or that it is constantly on overdrive. So many thoughts, so little time and usually those thoughts center around worrying about the future. Meditation helps reduce anxiety by quieting the mind and bringing mindful awareness to the here and now. Whether you choose to focus solely on your breath, a mantra, or listen to a guided meditation, it is important to cultivate a daily practice. Think of meditation as an exercise for your mind. Just like you need physical exercise to keep your body healthy, meditation helps keep your mind healthy. And isn’t that the ultimate goal, a healthy mind and body?

If you are struggling with anxiety, remember that you are not alone. There are a variety of treatment approaches from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to yoga and mindfulness. It just may take time to find the right treatment method or therapist who is right for you.

  • Amanda Schofield is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher in Oviedo, Florida specializing in a variety of mental health concerns including anxiety and stress in children, adolescents and young adults.

Prioritizing Your Mental Health During The Holidays

Tis the season to be stressed. As if life wasn’t crazy enough, the holidays seem to creep up on us year after year. And if you are the least bit Type A, you know there is quite a bit of added pressure that goes in to the holiday season. Decorate your home, create picture perfect holiday cards, make sure your house is spotless before your family comes, cook a delicious meal, find the best gifts, wrap said gifts and of course find and decorate the perfect tree. The to do list goes on and on. On top of all this, we spend a great deal more time with our friends and family at holiday parties and get togethers than we do throughout the rest of the year. So how does one check everything off their list and prioritize their mental health during such a chaotic time? The key is boundaries. Which may sound simple, but really isn’t.

Be more self-aware. What is self-awarness you ask? A simple Google search tells us that self-awareness is “the conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires”. A great way to become more self-aware of your feelings is by listening to your body. Do a quick body scan from head to toe and try to listen to what your body is telling you. Is there any tension? How is your stomach feeling? What is your heart rate like? Your breath? Our body typically tries to send us messages about our emotions– whether we are anxious, excited, angry, or depressed. Now that you are more in tune with how you are feeling, you are also more equipped to identify strategies for managing your mood. For example, maybe if you realize you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, it is time to take a break from all the holiday shopping you are on a mission to finish. I promise there will be another sale tomorrow.

Set healthy boundaries. Setting boundaries especially with friends and family can cause a great deal of guilt. We often would rather wear ourselves too thin than to tell our neighbor Sally we can not make her annual White Elephant Party this year. We feel guilty for letting people down at the expense of our own physical and mental wellness. A few tips for setting boundaries this holiday season include knowing your boundaries, planning ahead, and being respectful but assertive. Take a minute to think about what you value. Do you value quiet nights at home with your SO? Make sure to keep a few nights open in the month to get that quality alone time in. Maybe you value a lot of family time with your kids. Then it is important to set boundaries at work to make sure you have adequate time to do all the fun, holiday traditions with them this season. Knowing your values and boundaries will hopefully make saying “no” to that neighbor’s holiday party invite a lot easier.

Incorporate Self-Care. This will not be possible without the aforementioned boundary setting. Take a look at your calendar right now. Where can you fit in even 5 minutes for yourself? Self-care does not have to be time consuming or expensive. It can be as simple as doing a 5 minute meditation in your car before work or taking a bubble bath instead of a shower, painting your nails, savoring your morning coffee, or reading your favorite book 30 minutes before bed. Whatever you do, add it to your calendar. Set aside specific you time and do not cancel on yourself. Hey, if the Grinch can set aside dinner with himself at 6:30 and refuse to cancel– so can you!

It is important to remember, all of these strategies like anything in life, take time and practice. Maybe this season has already gotten off to a stressful start, but it is not too late to try something new this year. Don’t wait until the new year to prioritize your mental health!

  • Amanda Schofield is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Yoga Teacher in Oviedo, Florida specializing in a variety of mental health concerns including anxiety and stress in children, adolescents and adults.

6 Reasons Why Mindfulness & Yoga Is Perfect For Kids

I imagine not many of us born before the millennium ever remember a time in school where we stopped doing class work for a meditation break. It has always been acknowledged that children and teens of all ages need time to stretch their bodies, socialize with peers, work off some pent-up energy and take a mental break from the often monotonous tasks of schoolwork. And let’s be honest even as an adult, it gets pretty difficult and boring to sit at a desk and stare at a computer screen for 8 hours all day long. Traditionally recess has been the designated time for socializing and playing, however, kids yoga and mindfulness has now become a popular activity for many schools across the nation. So what is all the hype about and why should you care if your kid learns how to practice yoga, meditation, and mindfulness or not? 

  1. A less chaotic classroom

    Research shows that teachers who incorporate meditation into their lesson plans report the classroom environment becomes more peaceful and that their students are more able to express compassion to one another. While I am not a teacher, I have worked in schools and treatment programs where I have facilitated group counseling to youngsters and can only imagine how much a more peaceful environment helps teachers with behavior management.

  2. An easier bedtime routine

    Yes, it is true! Parents have said that a yoga and meditation practice has helped their kids wind down at bedtime. And if you are wondering they even sell a yoga bedtime storybook called “Good Night Yoga“.  Other options to incorporate yoga and meditation into your new bedtime routine include purchasing the audio cd, “Bedtime Meditations for Kids” or downloading the DreamyKid App which includes affirmations, guided meditations as well as relaxing music, lullabies and nature sounds.

  3. A less stressed kid

    We don’t always remember our childhood as being the most stressful time of our life and so it is easy to forget that children get stressed out too. Perhaps you remember your first bad grade, when your mom told you “no” to that candy bar in the check-out line or when your crush found out you liked them– all of it seemed like the end of the world at the time. These are prime examples of situations that cause children and adolescents to get stressed out. According to the Yoga Alliance, yoga has been shown to reduce the physical effects of stress on our bodies and lower the levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Can you imagine if they had started teaching yoga and meditation in schools “back in our day?”

  4. Fewer temper tantrums in the store

    Alright, I don’t have scientific research to back up this specific claim. However, a study in the journal Consciousness and Cognition found that just one session of meditation reduced the physical signs of anger. Wondering how yoga, meditation, and mindfulness help kids and teens regulate their emotions? It is because all of these practices teach them how to become self-aware of their bodies and emotions by simply paying more attention to how they are feeling throughout the day. It is the same with adults, once we are able to catch ourselves getting worked up over something, it is easier for us to control our emotions and behaviors.

  5. Improved academic performance

    When kids and teens practice yoga poses, it teaches them how to focus on their balance and their breathing. In return, kids’ concentration is improved. This is especially helpful for children with ADHD who are hyper, inattentive and impulsive. Additionally, practicing meditation has been shown to help children and adolescents reduce their test anxiety.

  6. Less technology, more confidence

    Lastly, in today’s society where we all have our cell phones attached to our hands, it is important to teach and model for kids and teens that there is more to life than our social media profiles. By practicing mindfulness, children learn to focus on the present moment instead of getting too caught up or worried about their next Instagram post. Yoga builds children’s self-esteem and teaches them that it is okay to make mistakes. Kids need to know that life is not perfect even when it is portrayed that way on the internet. Sometimes in yoga (and life), you fall out of poses, but you can always take a deep breath and try again!

— Amanda Schofield, MA is a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern and Certified Kids Yoga Teacher through Kidding Around Yoga with a private practice in Oviedo, FL