Pilates for Stress and Anxiety


Nearly a fifth of adults in the UK suffer from anxiety or depression.  Although a range of factors can contribute to the development of these, stress often has a significant impact when it comes to anxiety.  While doctors may prescribe medications to combat feelings of anxiety, these are not without their problems, so it is useful to explore the other treatment options available.

Managing Anxiety

Although clinical trials show that anti-anxiety medications are safe to take, they may cause a range of side-effects during the course of treatment.  For example, unwanted effects include drowsiness, dizziness, irritability, confusion, problems with movement, jaundice and reduced lung function.  In addition to this it is important to be aware that certain medications used to treat anxiety, such as Diazepam, are potentially addictive, so specialist help is sometimes required to withdraw from these drugs.  Thankfully though, talking therapies are also an effective treatment for anxiety,  but there are a range of strategies anyone can take to reduce stress levels that can help significantly.  For instance, eating a well-balanced diet and limiting alcohol and drinks containing caffeine can effectively reduce stress,  and, indeed regular exercise can also have a very beneficial effect.  There is evidence that exercise known for its ability to induce relaxation, such as Pilates, is particularly helpful for controlling stress and anxiety.

relaxationReducing Anxiety Among Cancer Survivors

One group of people known to experience high levels of anxiety are cancer patients and those who have survived cancer.  It is understandable that following diagnosis and during treatment it is an extremely anxious time, with many uncertainties about the future. However, for cancer survivors there is often a constant fear about recurrence of their illness.  Although there are not as many studies into the positive effects of Pilates on mental wellness among cancer survivors as there are for yoga,  there is promising evidence from  research conducted. For example, Pilates enhanced mood, quality of life and body image, all of which are related to anxiety, among breast cancer survivors.  Several physical benefits of Pilates were also seen for the participants, such as a greater ability and desire to exercise and improved range of movement, mobility and flexibility.

Managing Stress Among Students

Students are another group that often suffer from stress owing to the demands of balancing academic work with paid employment and a busy social life.  That’s before you even consider the added pressure of taking exams.  While students can access a range of support services to cope with life at university,  there is interest in whether taking part in movement-based sessions, including Pilates, may help to reduce stress.  One study among students found that after 15 weeks of Pilates stress levels were reduced together with with brighter mood and improved sleep patterns. This is not surprising, as suffering from stress can negatively affect mood and sleep quality.

Benefits For Pilates Practitioners

It isn’t just people taking part in a Pilates class who can benefit from improved mental health, as practitioners delivering sessions also gain.  A study investigating the influence of Pilates on the quality of life of practitioners, which looked at the benefits among those new to the discipline, established practitioners and ex-practitioners, found that benefits on mental well-being were greatest among experienced practitioners.

Why Pilates Is Effective

Although further research is necessary, Pilates may promote reduced stress levels and anxiety in a number of ways.  Firstly, all forms of exercise encourage your brain to release feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins and serotonin, which have a positive influence on your well-being.  At the same time your body reduces production of stress hormones like cortisol, which has obvious benefits. Beyond the chemical changes within your body, Pilates also helps to relax your muscles,  reducing the build up of tension, which can lead to physical problems, such as muscle pain and headaches, and can also worsen feelings of anxiety.  However, Pilates additionally promotes mindfulness, which is known to have a positive impact on stress and anxiety.  By focusing on just the movement and  breathing, the sights or sounds of the surroundings  distracts you from your worries, but it also helps you to become more aware of the connection between your thoughts, feelings and behaviour, allowing you to take positive steps to manage stress.


Research taken from an article in Pilates Union