I doubt most of us need to be reminded of “stress”.  Its omnipresent and in all aspects of modern life.  We can all relate to it.  Can we even begin to imagine a more stressful year than the last one?  But stress is getting worse not just because of the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, public health authorities have labeled it an epidemic, though one that is massively overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

April is National Stress Awareness Month. It’s an annual period where mental health professionals from a variety of backgrounds and practice settings join together to call public attention to the escalating modern epidemic of stress, its causes and remedies.

At Espyr we have been innovating approaches and services to address the stress epidemic for over three decades.  We are aware that on a personal or consumer level there are many helpful approaches to managing stress and there is not one simple or universal approach that helps everyone. (Sadly, magic wands seem to only function in works of fiction.)

An increasingly popular and accessible approach to managing stress is yoga.  In today’s guest blog, Leanne Shub, LMSW, RYT-200,  a Primary Therapist who is also a trained yoga instructor will share how she uses yoga to improve the mental health of her clients.

Improving Mental Health and Managing Stress through Yoga

It is safe to say that everyone has experienced stress to varying degrees at some point, especially with the current global pandemic.

It’s well known that chronic stress not only impacts an individual’s mental and emotional state, but it also impacts their physical wellness as well. I like to refer to disease as ‘dis-ease’ because of the overwhelming evidence that points to the correlation between chronic stress and illness.

It is not uncommon for people to only begin exploring ways to cope with stress after they experience physical consequences such as feeling run down, experiencing body tension, and/or gastrointestinal issues, among many others. Stress has been found to “disturb the immune, digestive, cardiovascular, sleep, and reproductive systems.” We are seeing the impacts of chronic stress in the workforce with higher recidivism, higher turnover, and lower morale. Chronic stress not only impacts the quality of life for employees, but it also impacts the work that employees are able to do, which becomes increasingly more expensive for employers.

The good news is that we have options available to manage stress effectively. We don’t have to be reactive when it comes to dealing with stress. There are many ways to reduce and prevent chronic stress. One of the best ways I know is yoga. Yoga allows us to bring more ‘ease’ to the lives of those who practice it.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a mind-body practice that involves controlled breathing, physical movements, and meditation. What I have found in my own practice, as well as teaching yoga and being a therapist, is that stress is not inherently bad.  In fact, it is incredibly important in order for survival. The problem is when the stress becomes chronic.

Yoga is a way for us to experientially stress and de-stress our body. In a traditional yoga class, I guide students to challenge their bodies in various poses and then immediately guide them into savasana (the relaxation pose, where one lies still on their back.) When an individual regularly practices yoga, they not only learn to concentrate their mind in a more effective manner, but they also learn how to move from stress to rest. After enough regular practice, an individual begins to organically apply certain aspects of what they learn on their mat and begin to implement the lessons off the mat. Individuals are able to better concentrate their minds despite any racing thoughts, they have better control of their breathing and in essence, can keep their central nervous system calm regardless of external stressors. Aside from the mental benefits of yoga, the practice also improves flexibility, strengthens muscle tone, improves balance, detoxifies the body, reduces overall stress, and heightens self-awareness.

The Business Benefits of Yoga

Many large companies have started offering yoga in the workplace in an effort to promote the practice among employees. A study through Ohio State University was conducted to explore the benefits of yoga on stressed employees. After six weeks of having employees engage in 20 minutes of meditation and yoga per day at their desk, “(employees) reported that they were more aware of external stressors, they felt less stressed by life events, and they fell asleep more easily than did a control group that did not experience the intervention.” By bringing the practice to individuals at work, companies can expect to see various improvements such as better company moral and improved work performance.

While there is plenty of new research that proves the benefits of the 5,000-year-old practice, the impacts of yoga are best understood after giving the practice a try. Today, yoga is more accessible than ever before. One can practice at no cost by doing a simple internet search to find various free classes online. I encourage everyone reading to roll out your mat and find how yoga can reduce and prevent stress and improve overall quality of life.

To Learn More

To learn more about National Stress Awareness Month, please visit: https://stressawarenessmonth.com/.  Please see Ms. Shub’s earlier blog post on this topic, Get Your Yoga On To Reduce Stress and Anxiety.

Keep in mind that your workforce may have many more resources than you are aware of concerning helping them manage stress and develop a “stress resistant” lifestyle.  Contact your Employee Assistance Program, or if you are in an academic setting your Student Assistance Program.  These services offer a variety of options to educate, inform and assist your managers and employees in managing stress and improving their overall mental health.

About the Author

Leanne Shub, LMSW, RYT-200 is a Primary Therapist at an outpatient eating disorder treatment center.  A graduate of Indiana University’s Graduate School of Social Work, Leanne has a background in working with individuals with substance abuse, trauma, and eating disorders. Her clinical interest is in combining mind-body interventions to help people cope and manage stress and anxiety. Ms. Shub can be contacted at Leanne.shub1@gmail.com

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions – solutions like our AI powered chatbot, TESS – to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.