A new research highlights the positive impact of exercise and relaxation activities on social anxiety disorder.
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Social anxiety disorder, one of the most common mental disorders, is also known as social phobia. Due to this chronic mental condition, a person suffers from excessive and unreasonable fear of social situation. The anxiety and self-consciousness occurs from a fear of being closely watched or judged. Social anxiety disorder may cause other mental illnesses such as panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and depression.
In the new study, Adam Heenan – a PhD candidate in the Clinical Psychology – found that exercise and relaxation activities like yoga significantly altered the way people perceive the outer world. They began to perceive the world as less threatening and in a less negative way.
The researchers used point-light displays, a depiction of human that has a series of dots representing the major joints. Human point-light displays are depth ambiguous and due to this, the viewer looking at the display sees it as either facing towards them or facing away. They noticed that those who are socially anxious perceive these figures as facing towards them 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 explains. “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 finding is crucial as people who are anxious show a bias to focus on extremely threatening things present around them. The researchers assumed that the disorder spreads. Those, who are anxious, focus on anxiety-inducing things and get more anxious.
“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, who worked with supervisor Nikolaus Troje (Psychology) on the research.
The study was published in the journal PLOS One.