what is bilateral stimulation

Bilateral stimulation: What it is and how to use it to reduce anxiety

It's no secret that anxiety can feel like a never-ending battle. Some days it can feel like you're trying to hold back a tidal wave with a cocktail umbrella. Other days, it's more like you're trying to herd cats through a crowded market.

But what if we told you there was a scientifically proven way to reduce anxiety that you may not have heard of? Enter: bilateral stimulation.

In this article, we'll take a closer look at what bilateral stimulation is and how it can help reduce anxiety. We'll explore the different types of bilateral stimulation techniques, as well as discuss the science behind why these techniques are effective in reducing anxiety, and how they can be incorporated into your daily routine. Finally, we'll provide some tips for getting started with bilateral stimulation and maximizing its benefits.

So if you're looking for a new tool to add to your anxiety-busting arsenal, keep reading!

What is bilateral stimulation?

Bilateral stimulation refers to the process of alternately stimulating the left and right sides of your brain. Imagine it as a ping-pong game where the ball moves back and forth, stimulating one side of the table—or your brain—and then the other.

Different methods of bilateral stimulation

There are several methods of bilateral stimulation, including the following:

Eye movement

One method of bilateral stimulation is eye movement, where you follow an object or light moving back and forth across your field of vision.

Physical tapping

Another method of bilateral stimulation is tapping, where you tap alternate hands or feet or where you feel a tap on one side of your body and then the other.

Auditory cues

Auditory cues can also be used in bilateral stimulation, where you listen to alternating sounds in each ear.

How bilateral stimulation affects the brain and nervous system

This type of back-and-forth movement—or bilateral stimulation—has been shown to have a calming effect on the brain and nervous system, impacting them in the following ways:

  • Activating the parasympathetic nervous system: While specific research is ongoing (especially in the area of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing [EMDR], in which bilateral stimulation is used), there are signals that support the connection between bilateral stimulation and the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the body's rest-and-digest response. That means bilateral stimulation may help transition the body from fight-or-flight mode to a more restful state.
  • Enhancing communication between the brain's hemispheres: Research also suggests that, during bilateral stimulation, the alternating left-right pattern activates both hemispheres of the brain, allowing them to communicate more effectively with each other. This communication helps to create new neural pathways and strengthen existing ones.
  • Increasing levels of certain neurotransmitters: Bilateral stimulation has been found to increase levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as serotonin and dopamine, which are associated with feelings of well-being and happiness.

The benefits of using bilateral stimulation for anxiety reduction

The result of those brain and nervous system effects of bilateral stimulation are the following anxiety-related benefits:

  • Reduction in anxiety, PTSD, and other stress-related disorders: By helping the body transition from fight-or-flight to rest-and-digest mode, bilateral stimulation can ease feelings of anxiety, PTSD, and other stress-related disorders—including social anxiety disorder—and promote a sense of overall relaxation.
  • Improved emotional regulation: By creating new neural pathways between the brain's hemispheres, bilateral stimulation can increase emotional regulation, which is your ability to control your emotions and your reactions to them.
  • Reduced reactivity to stressors: Additionally, those new and strengthened neural pathways can reduce your reactivity to stressors, which means you begin to handle stressful situations better.
  • Increased feelings of well-being and happiness: Lastly, the boost in the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine may help explain why some people feel a sense of calm or relaxation after using bilateral stimulation techniques.

Overall, using bilateral stimulation for anxiety reduction can have significant benefits. And its ability to help regulate the nervous system and improve emotional regulation makes it an effective tool for mental health professionals working with clients experiencing these issues.

Adding bilateral stimulation to your evening routine

Because of its relaxing benefits, bilateral stimulation activities can make a great addition to your evening routine, helping you reduce anxiety and stress before bedtime. 

Before bed, take some time to either move your eyes back and forth, tap alternate sides of your body, or listen to alternating sounds in each ear. 

Or, to make it even easier, download the Balance meditation and sleep app, and check out the Wind Down activity. It's an interactive activity that taps into both the eye movement and tapping bilateral stimulation techniques to help you, well, wind down, about an hour before bed. 

Adding the Balance app's Wind Down activity to your bedtime routine, doing it for even just a few minutes each night, can help you to feel more relaxed and ready for a good night's sleep. And the best part? Balance is available on both iOS and Android and is totally free for your entire first year.

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