There is growing evidence that balance, movement and proprioception (the sense or awareness of our body in space) can play an important role with managing anxiety.
Maintaining balance requires input from a number of systems, including proprioceptive and vestibular (movement) sensory systems. These sensory systems have direct pathways to the parts of the brain that modulate the autonomic nervous system, which controls the stress response. Research has shown that increasing balance, movement and proprioceptive input actually reduces sympathetic nervous system activation, effectively turning down the stress response and reducing anxiety.
It makes sense when you think about it. If we feel less balanced and more unsure/unsteady on our feet, or if we are not registering sufficient information from our muscles and joints about where our body is in the environment, this can heighten feelings of stress, anxiety, and feelings of being more unsafe/unstable as we are moving through the world.
Actively increasing balance, movement and proprioceptive input will help a person feel more connected to their body. This increases a sense of grounding, stability, safety and calm, which can reduce or even alleviate feelings of anxiety. This input can be increased by engaging in activities that require balance, movement, sustained muscle contractions or deep pressure input.
Examples of increasing balance, movement and proprioception input to reduce anxiety:
· For children who are feeling anxious or nervous in the morning before school, play a game of ‘balancing on one foot’. To make it more fun, balance while waving arms, touching nose, wriggling raised leg or even use a balance board (now available in stores like Kmart). These activities are also useful during school, after breaks or between lessons.
· Participating in movement and muscle resistance exercises at the beginning or end of the day, to increase feelings of calm and grounding, for example yoga or pilates poses, using repetitions with hand weights, skipping with a rope, or stretching exercises using therabands (now available in stores like Kmart).
· Incorporating resistance and deep pressure input into your daily activities and routines, for example watering the garden with buckets of water, reading a book with a weighted cushion, weighted toy or pet in your lap, or going for a swim, a walk or a bike ride.
Medical News Today (2009). Link Between Anxiety and Balance Problems in Children Suggested By New Research From TAU https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/136495.php
Science Daily (2009). Mind Out Of Balance, Body Out Of Balance. Tel Aviv University. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090122141226.htm