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07-07 Sitting with feelings: How sedentary behavior can increase anxiety

Sitting with feelings: How sedentary behavior can increase anxiety
Certain levels of anxiety can be healthy. However, when anxiety becomes excessive and gets in the way of an individual’s daily life, it can be indicative of an underlying mental health disorder. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders affect 8 percent of teens in the United States ages 13 to 18, 82 percent of which do not receive any sort of mental health care.

A new study published in June of 2015 conducted by Deakin University’s Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition Research found that there is a correlation between sedentary behavior and an individual’s risk for anxiety. Deakin University is located in Australia, where anxiety affects 15 percent of teenagers and young adults ages 16 to 24.

This new study is one of the first to explore the relationship between sedentary behavior and anxiety. For purposes of the study, sedentary behavior includes computer screen time, sitting while watching television, sitting while commuting and driving and sitting at a desk or elsewhere in the office. Researchers analyzed the data of nine previous studies and determined that there is a direct relationship between the amount of hours an individual sits during the day and his or her risk of increased anxiety. They found a correlation between sedentary behavior and anxiety in five of the nine studies. The total amount of hours spent sitting per day was also a factor in four of them. Though only two of the studies included adolescents and teenagers, it is believed that these results pertain to all ages.

While these findings are sparking dialogue on a global scale, researchers note that further research must be conducted. The studies examined by the Deakin University researchers were based on interviews and the reasons for the correlation have yet to be determined. As the study notes, past research supports the fact that “engaging in screen-based entertainment… increase[s] the arousal of the central nervous system (CNS), which could potentially lead to increased levels of anxiety.” In addition, these kinds of entertainment, such as television or video games, “have been linked to disrupted sleeping patterns which may also cause elevated levels of anxiety.” However, the study also acknowledges it could be possible that individuals struggling with mental illness are more likely to engage in sedentary behavior than others. Megan Teychenne, lead researcher, states, “Our research showed that evidence is available to suggest a positive association between sitting time and anxiety symptoms; however, the direction of this relationship still needs to be determined through longitudinal and interventional studies.”

A study published in 2013 found that the average American spends 13 hours per day sitting. This is largely because many individuals are forced to sit or be relatively inactive for long periods due to school, work or disability. While common after-school activities used to include going for a bike ride or playing out in the front yard, students sitting all day in class now go home to do the same while playing video games or watching television. For this reason, physical education classes in schools are helpful to ensure that children remain active to benefit both their physical and mental health. However, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, 44 percent of schools in the United States have reduced the amount of physical education classes available to children since 2001 due to budget cuts and the passing of No Child Left Behind, a nationwide program prioritizing standardized test scores.

Due to the increasing amount of information surrounding the health repercussions of inactivity, standing desks are being added to schools and offices around the country. However, it is not always possible for individuals, particularly full-time workers and students, to significantly increase their daily physical activity. In these cases, mindfulness and meditation are believed to reduce anxiety. According to the Child/Adolescent Anxiety Multimodal Study (CAMS), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is also highly effective in treating anxiety disorders in children and teens. Since it has not yet been determined whether sedentary behavior or anxiety precedes the other, Teychenne notes that this must be assessed to be able to “develop evidence-based strategies in preventing and managing this illness.”

If your child is struggling with an anxiety disorder, help is available. Sovereign Health Rancho San Diego is a facility that implements CBT in its treatment programs and specializes in helping adolescents and teens struggling with mental health issues, substance abuse and dual diagnosis. Call 866-615-7266 to speak with a professional today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

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