When you feel stressed, anxious, or burned out, you generally view thoughts and feelings associated with these phenomena as “mental.” That’s why we talk about “mental” health, and that’s why we focus on the brain when we think about eliminating this uncomfortable state of being. Numerous studies have shown 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 alter the brain.
Your body is involved in your feelings
While the brain is a key participant in the sensations associated with stress, anxiety, and burnout, the rest of the body carries information that can affect how we think and feel. In that sense you don’t just have a ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling’ brain; you actually also have a “thinking” and “feeling” body (5,6). That’s why some studies have suggested that while therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are helpful in recognizing that your thinking is distorted, adding an embodiment component to CBT can make a big difference (7).
How the body is involved?
When you’re stressed, you might think of it as “worry,” “panic,” or “mental fatigue,” but in fact, there’s some evidence that stress isn’t purely mental at all. Several other physical changes can also be observed, ranging from postural changes (eg, leaning forward), facial expressions (eg, alarmed eyes), gestures (eg, weak handshake) and movements (eg, flopping into bed) (7) . Further, when you remember your feelings, you not only remember the abstraction of a stressful time, your memories can also include physical actions like crying on someone’s shoulder or slumping at the foot of your bed.
Therapies such as CBT and traditional psychotherapy are called “top-down” therapies. They focus on thoughts, emotions, and abstract ideas generally associated with language and the brain.
However, the body has its own language: you feel different in a warm shower or in a bath with ice cold water. The body also feels different in an open versus a closed space. The body can feel very different when immersed in the memory of pain rather than the ‘here and now’.
Embodied therapies, also known as bottom-up therapies, benefit from changing the body’s relationship to space and thus how we feel. Extended postures, the direction of gaze, the 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 take in the environment in front of you. In the case of virtual reality, you feel like your whole body is immersed in that scene. Depending on the environment your body is immersed in, your thinking will change accordingly (13).
“Integrated cognition” means that our environments influence thinking (and feeling). For example, being in certain environments can ease the burden of thinking (14). Incorporating calming stimuli relaxes the entire body, not just your mind. Therefore, videos can influence how we feel.
In contrast, ’embodied cognition’ is a similar type of body participation, but here the sounds you hear and the feeling of being in a particular space can, for example, ease the burden of thinking and feeling anxious.
Many experts insist that it is misleading to think of the brain as the physical basis or “core machinery” of moods, and that neurotransmitters and neuromodulators, along with the neurons they interact with, do not constitute the physical basis or “core machinery.” of votes (15). For example, chemicals in the brain are affected by blood glucose, hormones outside the brain, the immune system, and the gut. And soothing immersion in stress-reducing environments like nature can induce physiological changes (16), such as changes in glucose (17), cortisol (18), the immune system (19), and the gut (20). Also, the whole body is represented in the brain and is connected to it, so changes in the body are closely linked to changes in the brain.
VR offers an immersive experience. In doing so, it provides the experience of altering multiple physiological and organ systems to help relieve stress and anxiety.
The specific and special impact of video and virtual reality is that they provide the opportunity for ‘internalizing’ and ‘whole body’ interventions that affect multiple physiological systems, allowing us to address stress and anxiety in completely different ways.