Recession Depression? How Yoga Helps Some Cope with the Stress of the Economic Downturn

If your bank account–and your mood–suffer from recession depression, you’re not alone. According to a recent poll, 80% of Americans feel that the continued economic downturn is exposing them to too much stress; an increase of 66% from last April. Just as bad, shrinking bottom lines appear to not just lead to too much stress, but also expanding waist lines: In another survey of over 1,000 Americans, 25% said the excess stress caused by financial challenges made them more inclined to binge eat on high-calorie foods.

In a sobering sign of how the recession is taking it’s toll, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline reported an increase in calls from 39,465 a month in January 2008 to 50,158 a month in January 2009. It is well-known that stress and depression often go hand in hand, and the increased call volume is a sign that the financial stress many people are increasing levels of depression and anxiety. The group’s federal project officer, Richard McKeon, cited economic stress as a key factor that has increasingly “played a central role” in triggering higher levels of depression and other mental health issues.

As the stress of unemployment or fear of unemployment takes its toll, Americans have begun to look for natural stress managment techniques to deal with  stress-related disorders, such as tension headaches, increased blood pressure, insomnia, depression, and overall anxiety. According to reports, yoga Is one therapy for stress more Americans appear to turn to increasingly frequently.

Several recent studies document yoga’s ability to offer natural stress relief and improve overall well being. According to one study, women who participated in a 90-minute yoga class for stress managment twice a week for three months experienced a decrease in numerous symptoms of stress, including decreased anxiety, depression, and fatigue. They also reported increased energy levels and well being; and most importantly, an improvement in perceived stress. Furthermore, the study found that the women practicing yoga as therapy for stress reported significantly fewer headaches, less back pain, and better sleep quality than those in the control group.

It has long been known that exercise on its own is a natural stress relief technique. Yoga therapy adds one more element for natural stress relief, because it combines exercise with mental focus, therapeutic stretching, and deep relaxation, offering a full-spectrum approach for stress managment.

Individuals seeking ways to deal with too much stress aren’t the only ones turning to yoga: more and more organizations have begun to take advantage of the natural stress relief which yoga provides. Businesses, such as Seattle’s Hyde Evans, an interior design firm, have begun to set aside office hours for employees to participate in company-sponsored classes offering yoga practice for stress. The company has found that by allowing employees to take an hour out of the work week to practice yoga for stress management, it has been able to boost employee productivity through the increased energy, better mood, and physical/emotional well-being yoga produces.

In an extreme example of how yoga used as therapy can offer natural relief for even extreme stress-related conditions, even the U.S. Department of Defense has begun using yoga for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Veterans who have been in combat often suffer from stress-related depression and anxiety after they return home. Indeed, one might say that if yoga can help veterans deal with the scars and lingering stress of war, it can certainly help the rest of us deal with the stress and tension we experience at home and in the office.

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