By Lauren Salani, LCSW, BCB
Physical activity is effective for reducing mild-to-moderate symptoms of anxiety, depression and psychological distress as determined by a recent immense umbrella review of research headed by Dr. Ben Singh at the University of South Australia. These huge findings highlight the need for physical activity, not just for physical health, but for mental health, as well.
If you decide you want to incorporate a physical activity routine into your current treatment, be sure to discuss this with your therapist and/or prescribing physician. Working as a team you can devise how to best integrate an exercise routine that would be acceptable and maybe even enjoyable to maximize you feeling better sooner.
However, many people suffering with anxiety, depression, or psychosomatic stress may deem physical activity as too intimidating. For people suffering with anxiety, the raising of one’s heart rate may seem to too scary, as it may feel like a heart attack. Raising ones breathing rate may be too enervating to tolerate. For people with depression, exercise may be deemed to not to help anyway, or it is just too hard to motivate one’s psyche for all that movement and discomfort. For people who suffer from somatic complaints such as chronic pain, just imagining the experience of an exercise can bring on a sense of dread.
A course of Mindfulness-based Biofeedback Therapy could be very effective in correcting underlying maladaptive breathing patterns, regulating heart rate and blood pressure, releasing muscle tension that causes pain, reducing nervous system activity and increasing motivation and self-compassion. All without the strain of moving your body. Mindfulness-based Biofeedback Therapy involves providing your own real-time biological information to you on a computer. Sensors are attached on the skin that provide this bio-data in numerical or picture form. Feedback from the sensors allows you to observe how your own breathing, muscle activity, heart rate, skin temperature, and nervous system activity changes as you learn how to better manage your body’s physiological functioning in a positive, beneficial way.
As you can more confidently stabilize your breath, lengthen your muscles, slow your heart rate as it becomes more variable, and increase your circulation to your fingers and toes with the biofeedback signals, you know you are performing very healthy internal exercises that benefit your whole body while just sitting still. An internal exercise routine that consists of just sitting in a chair while breathing softly with correct bio-data, is starting where your body is, not where you want it to be. These internal movements with a compassionate attitude toward yourself can be an empowering experience to someone who encounters many health obstacles in their daily life. In time, these corrective body movements can lead you toward your next choice of a satisfying activity, such as a gentle walking meditation, light weights, or a stretching routine. With the positive changes that you have made in your body with biofeedback, the concerns that bothered you before may not be an issue anymore.
Biofeedback has been shown to be effective for anxiety, mood, and pain. Recently, Brigham and Women’s Hospital published additional evidence for the effectiveness of muscle biofeedback. With only 6 sessions, participants reported greater reductions in pain than relaxation training alone or an educational program. These reductions lasted through a 4-year follow-up. Learning how to make very small corrective positive changes in your body with patience and self-compassion can start the building blocks to increase better physical and mental functioning, then, slowly, add more movement into your lifestyle.
Lauren A. Salani, LCSW, BCB, Stress Relief Services, Atlantic Executive Center
107 Monmouth Road, Suite 104, West Long Branch, NJ 07764, 732.542.2638