Researchers from Queen’s University have found that exercise and relaxation practices can help people with social anxiety disorders view the world more positively.
Adam Heenan, a Ph.D. candidate, discovered exercise and relaxation activities like yoga can literally change the way people perceive the world — a revelation that has particular implications for people with mood and anxiety disorders.
Heenan found participation in exercise and relaxation techniques altered individuals’ perception so that they view the environment in a less threatening, less negative way.
For his research, Heenan used point-light displays, a depiction of a human that is comprised of a series of dots representing the major joints.
Human point-light displays are depth-ambiguous and because of this, an observer looking at the display could see it as either facing towards them or facing away.
Researchers have found people who are socially anxious perceive these figures as facing towards them (i.e., the more threatening way) more often.
“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),” Heenan said.
“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 important because anxious people display a bias to focus on more threatening things in their environment.
In fact, some researchers think that this is how these disorders are perpetuated: People who are anxious focus on anxiety-inducing things and thus become more anxious, in a continuous cycle.
“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,” said Heenan.
The research is published in the journal PLOS one.
Source: Queens University