Can you relieve stress with juggling?

For me, the answer is definitely yes, but this isn’t evidence that it can help others deal with stress. Few things are like juggling 3 or 4 balls, and doing tricks to forget about certain stressful problems or to gain a different perspective on them. It puts me into a different brain zone where it seems problems are both smaller and more manageable. Indeed, effectively dealing with various responsibilities and stressful problems is not unlike a juggling act.

What does science have to say about this? We are very fortunate that some scientists did put the title question of this post to the test and did some good, though preliminary research: Effect of juggling therapy on anxiety disorders in female patients published in Biopsychosoc Med. 2007; 1: 10:

After 6 months, an analysis of variance revealed that scores on the state anxiety, trait anxiety subscales of STAI and tension-anxiety (T-A) score of POMS were significantly lower in the juggling group than in the non-juggling group (p < 0.01). Depression, anger-hostility scores of POMS were improved more than non-jugglers. In the juggling group, activity scores on the vigor subscale of POMS and FAI score were significantly higher than those in the non juggling group (p < 0.01). Other mood scores of POMS did not differ between the two groups.

These findings suggest that juggling therapy may be effective for the treatment of anxiety disorders.

This sounds promising, but this study did have many limitations. For one thing, it involved only 17 people, all of them female. Also, the effect from the juggling may be due to the juggling helping the test subjects relax; any other relaxation therapy may have achieved the same results. Similarly, juggling is a form of light exercise, which can also help relieve anxiety. Unlike yoga or meditation, juggling does increase gray matter in the brain, possibly in a manner that may make it more resistant to stress or depression, although this is speculation on my part. After all, a person whose brain is more “adaptive” is probably better able to adapt to stressful conditions. I think the control/non juggling group in this study should have done light aerobic exercise, to see how juggling compares to exercise in general.

There is also the issue of EMDR therapy that was covered in the study:

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) is an integrative psychotherapy approach that has been consistently evaluated as effective for treating several anxiety disorders, inclucing PTSD [6], panic disorders [7], and phobias [8]. Although conflicting data has been reported for the efficacy of EMDR [9], this therapy is considered to be of low to moderate level of efficacy [10]. Originally, research on this therapy found that moving the eyes rapidly in a side-to-side motion reduced disturbing thoughts and related anxiety [11].

So rapidly moving the eyes side-to-side, all by all by itself can help relieve anxiety? That is intriguing. I suggest reading the full study since there is a lot of interesting information in there. This research is promising, but a lot more needs to be done.


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