Physical exercise and relaxation techniques are common forms of stress-relief. Now, a new study has found that both may help people with social anxiety perceive their surroundings as less threatening environments.
Researchers from Queen’s University in the U.K. conducted two experiments measuring anxiety in participants. In both experiments, the participants were shown point-of-light displays describing a human but not indicating which way the stick figure was facing or whether it appeared to be approaching or receding. Facing-the-viewer bias, a possible biological protective mechanism, may lead people to assume the figure is approaching and posing a threat. And, according to the study, people who are more anxious may place their attention on more threatening stimuli, thereby increasing anxiety.
The researchers tested two means of altering participants’ perception of threat when looking at the stick-figure displays. From a release:
“We wanted to examine whether people would perceive their environment as less threatening after engaging in physical exercise or after doing a relaxation technique that is similar to the breathing exercises in yoga (called progressive muscle relaxation),” researcher [Adam Heenan, a PhD candidate,] said in a statement. “We found that people who either walked or jogged on a treadmill for 10 minutes perceived these ambiguous figures as facing towards them (the observer) less often than those who simply stood on the treadmill. The same was true when people performed progressive muscle relaxation.”
“This is a big development because it helps to explain why exercising and relaxation techniques have been successful in treating and mood and anxiety disorders in the past,” Heenan said.
The research was published in PLOS ONE.
Previously: Research brings meditation’s health benefits into focus, Ah…OM: Study shows prenatal yoga may relieve anxiety in pregnant women, Study reveals initial findings on health of most extreme runners and The remarkable impact of yoga breathing for trauma
Photo courtesy of Trish Ward-Torres