Burned out? Try yoga

working hard or hardly working?

Personally, I’ve loved working from home over the past 18 months or so.

  • No more wasting over an hour of my day commuting on a busy train, breathing in other people’s sweat and getting stressed about being late/trains being cancelled etc etc
  • No more waking up at 6am so I can manage to do my morning practice, meditation and morning pages before work
  • No more rushing from work to a yoga class/poetry class/other evening activity and then getting home late and still having to cook

But I fully recognise my privilege. Even before we moved house, I had my own room to work in, ie not my bedroom or living room, creating that slight distinction between home and work. I don’t have children, and while kitty is demanding, he doesn’t exactly need more than a little bit of stroking every once in a while.

I’m not going to say it’s been plain sailing. I have days when I’m on Zoom for 7 hours straight. When it’s been busy, I’ve been working late, made even easier by the fact that I am in my own house and therefore don’t need to worry about getting home.

Unsurprisingly, recent research suggests that working from home has taken a toll on people’s wellbeing, especially those living alone.

Getting work–life balance right is a challenge.

Could yoga help to tackle work-related mental health issues?

There have been a few studies over the few past years that have looked at just this. Some have focused on specific study population (eg nurses, doctors, professors); others have looked more generally at the wider workforce.

Reduce perceived stress

A systematic review of studies looking at the effectiveness of yoga interventions on perceived stress in the workplace found that pretty much all the studies reported benefits for yoga versus doing nothing at all (we’ll come back to that in a second).

Remember, systematic reviews are really powerful studies as they look at all the existing literature and collate their findings to draw broader conclusions. Although I’ve literally never heard of this journal (and I’ve told you previously what a snob I am when it comes to publications), the methodology seems sound.

Yoga nidra has also been shown to reduced stress among specific work populations, as I have written about before.

Reduce burnout

This is an interesting one – burnout is a hard thing to define, but according to the WHO defines is caused by excessive prolonged work-related stress, so I’ll go with that. How many of us experience burnout because we have too much to do, too little time to do it and not enough reward?

One study found that a yoga-based programme comprising gentle movement, breathing exercises and meditation reduced burnout among healthcare professionals. Although big caveat that they had no control arm in this study, so they were not comparing their yoga programme to anything, just measuring improvements before and after the intervention. (also, as an aside, the description of the meditation element of this study sounds very much like yoga nidra, to me at least).

Improve sleep

Another systematic review that I can’t actually access and read (so can’t comment on how good it is) found that workplace interventions targeted specifically at shift workers can help to improve sleep and combat the potential detrimental effects of disturbed sleep.

What about during the pandemic?

So clearly there is research showing that yoga can help with tackling stress and its consequences among workers. But work–life has dramatically changed over the past 18 months. And work-related stress and burnout look very different today.

This is the study that spurred this post. It’s only a small pilot study but on a very current topic – can online yoga help to relieve work-related stress while working from home during lockdown?

The study found that yoga helped to reduce perceived stress and depression, and increase mental wellbeing, compared with doing nothing. However, they did not find a statistically significant effect on anxiety or stress as measured by a validated psychometric test.

Even so, all in all this is a promising finding and one that workplaces should take note of.*

Is yoga special though?

The simple answer is – who knows?

There’s a slight issue in that most studies seem to compare yoga with nothing, not with what is called an ‘active control’ – ie another intervention like reading, listening to music, walking etc. Which means it’s quite hard to know whether there is something special about yoga vs other mind or body activities (this is a general issue I have with yoga research).

The one study that did compare yoga with a mindfulness programme (not sure exactly what as I don’t have access to the full paper) found that both interventions helped to reduce perceived stress and sleep quality compared to doing nothing at all. So it’s likely that yoga is not special, or at least that the collective of mind–body activities have the same effect.

Regardless…

It’s clear that yoga (and probably other things too but this is my focus) is a really important tool for coping with work-related stress and other issues and finding that all elusive work–life balance.

Which begs the question: if workplaces want employees to be as productive as possible and as creative as possible, shouldn’t they all offer free or subsidised opportunities for mind–body practices?

After all, brilliant ideas come to clear minds.

Has yoga helped you manage working from home during lockdown?


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*I also came across this study and was excited to read the review. It turns out the title is completely misleading as it doesn’t present any research on yoga while working from home, just some speculation. This is why I get frustrated with yoga paper so much!

3 Comments

  1. Such an interesting topic! I worked from home before the pandemic as well – but I also had to get out of the house to teach – but nowadays it’s all online and I’ve worked more than ever because it’s so easy… but I’ve also had the chance to actually get time for sleep more than ever: not having to get up early in the morning.
    For me, my daily Yoga Nidra practices have made a HUGE difference for my well being and that’s one of the things that I love the most about working from home. Of course it’s possible at offices too – but it can be tricky to find a quiet place to hide in. 🙂

    Like you’re saying:
    “Brilliant ideas come to clear minds”.

    Like

    1. You know I once tried to meditate in the office. I felt like everyone was staring at me and I never tried again. Imagine lying down for a yoga nidra! 😹
      I must start doing more nidras, probably better for me than buying new shoes every week…

      Like

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