How Body-Based Therapies Alleviate Stress and Anxiety

How Body-Based Therapies Alleviate Stress and Anxiety

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When you feel stressed, anxious or exhausted, you usually think that the thoughts and feelings associated with these phenomena are “mental”. That’s why we talk about “mental” health and that’s why we focus on the brain when we think about eliminating those uncomfortable states of being. Countless studies have demonstrated that thoughts (1,2) and feelings are, indeed, reflected in the brain (3,4), so it’s no wonder that most therapies are designed to modify the brain .

Your body is involved in your feelings

While the brain is A major contributor to the sensations associated with stress, anxiety and burnout, the rest of the body contains information that can also impact how we think and feel. In this sense, you not only have a “thinking” and “sentient” brain; you also have a ‘thinking’ and ‘sentient’ body (5.6). This is why some studies have suggested that while therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are helpful in recognizing that your thinking has been distorted, adding an element of embodiment to CBT can go a long way. difference (7).

How the body is involved

When you’re stressed, you may think of it as ‘worry’, ‘panic’ or ‘mental fatigue’, but in fact, it’s been proven that stress isn’t purely mental at all. Various other bodily changes may also be seen, ranging from changes in posture (eg, slouching), facial expressions (eg, alarmed eyes), gestures (eg, weak handshake) and movements (eg, dropping into bed) (7) . Also, when you remember feelings, you don’t just remember the abstraction of a stressful moment, your memories may include bodily actions such as crying on someone’s shoulder or slumping at the foot of your bed.

Body therapies

Therapies such as CBT and traditional psychotherapy are called “top-down” therapies. They focus on abstract thoughts, emotions, and ideas typically associated with language and the brain.

However, the body has its own language: you feel different in a hot shower or in an ice-cold bath. The body also feels different in an open space compared to a closed space. The body can feel completely different when immersed in the memory of pain compared to being in the “here and now”.

Embodied therapies, also called “bottom-up” therapies, take advantage of changing the body’s relationship to space and, in doing so, change how we feel. Expansive postures, direction of gaze, direction of movement, and breathing patterns are all part of embodied therapies (11,12).

Video, virtual reality, embedded and embodied therapy

When you watch a video or are immersed in virtual reality, you absorb the environment in front of you. In the case of virtual reality, you have the impression that your whole body is immersed in this scene. Depending on the environment your body is immersed in, your way of thinking will change accordingly (13).

“Built-in cognition” means that our environments impact thinking (and feeling). Being in certain environments can ease the burden of thinking, for example (14). Taking in soothing stimuli relaxes the whole body, not just your mind. This is why videos can influence the way we feel.

Embodied cognition, on the other hand, is a similar type of bodily engagement, but here the sounds you hear and the feeling of being in a particular space can ease the burden of thought and anxiety, for example.

Many experts strongly argue that it is misleading to think of the brain as the physical basis or “central machinery” of moods, and that neurotransmitters and neuromodulators, and the neurons with which they interact, are not the basic physics or the “central machinery” of humors (15). For example, brain chemicals are influenced by blood sugar, hormones outside the brain, the immune system, and the gut. And soothing immersion in stress-reducing environments like nature can trigger physiological changes (16), such as changes in glucose (17), cortisol (18), immune system (19), and gut (20). Moreover, the whole body is represented in the brain and connects with it, so that changes in the body are intimately linked to changes in the brain.

VR provides an immersive experience. In doing so, it offers the experience of altering multiple physiological and organ systems to help relieve stress and anxiety.


The specific and particular impact of video and virtual reality is that they offer the possibility of “internalizing” and “whole body” interventions that impact several physiological systems, helping us to manage the stress and anxiety in entirely different ways.

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