How do you maintain a psychological balance

Balance: Why we fall more and more often

The connection between psyche and balance

Studies show that anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and other mental illnesses impair the ability to balance, both when walking and when standing.

There are many possible reasons for this, says Ron Feldman of Tel Aviv University. People with depression tend to stoop over and often move much more slowly. If they stumble, there is a higher risk that they will perform the necessary compensatory movements too slowly. The clinical picture of schizophrenia often includes a fluctuating posture, which makes it difficult for people to link visual stimuli with other components of the equilibrium system. And the fear of falling can paradoxically affect the posture of those with anxiety in such a way that a fall becomes more likely.

However, this knowledge has not yet been reflected in current diagnostic or treatment methods. "In the case of mental illness, the physical components are usually not taken into account," says Feldman. This is a wasted opportunity. Because the connection between balance and mental health could potentially be used in a positive way: physical balance training could also benefit mental health.

We owe our ability to react quickly to different situations to our brain. It makes predictions based on previous experience. Some neuroscientists believe that these processes take place in the cerebellum. It is networked with other brain regions, such as the motor cortex that controls our movements. The information is sent back and forth in closed loops. The cerebellum acts as a kind of branch office that processes information super-fast and supports all other processes, says cognitive scientist Jessica Bernard from Texas University: "You send things back there to process them even more efficiently." The cerebellum also sends information and helps us to adapt our behavior.

Staggering through life

It has long been known that the cerebellum plays a role in controlling movement. Recent research has now shown that it also plays a role in fine-tuning our thoughts and emotions. This could explain why some mental illnesses are often associated with disorders of balance (see "The connection between psyche and balance"). It could also explain why people who are asked to do a cognitively demanding task cannot balance themselves as well. On the other hand, those who pay attention to balance in such studies do worse on the cognitive task. Linguistic images that many people use to describe their feelings, such as "I am emotionally stable" or "My feelings have gotten out of balance", could definitely be correct.

When humans became two-legged

Until now, it was thought that for a long time early humans moved like gorillas in the ankle gait. However, a more recent hypothesis suggests that we became two-legged much earlier: when our ancestors still lived in trees. According to this, the tree dwellers began to spend more time standing around 15 million years ago by first holding onto branches with their hands and gradually balancing on their own. According to a 2017 study, it is enough to touch a moving branch with your fingertips. This sends a sensory signal to the brain that helps people maintain balance. So learning to balance is an essential part of what defines today's human being.

Walking doesn't seem to be an issue for most people. When he took a closer look, however, Srinivasan was surprised. He and his colleague Yang Wang, who also does research at Ohio State University, put reflective markings on the hips, ankles and feet of volunteers. With the help of an infrared camera, they followed the movements of their subjects while they were walking on a treadmill. In doing so, they found that even walking on a flat surface is essentially similar to staggering a drunk or stumbling after an unexpected bump. “Imagine walking forward and being pushed to the right. You would intuitively balance to the right with your leg and thus exert a force directed to the left, ”says Srinivasan.

Each step is a process in which we keep straightening up as our upper bodies tumble back and forth. Usually it doesn't look like we're staggering. This is because our cerebellum works with nerves and muscles, making tiny corrections in the middle of each step. Srinivasan and his team have shown how this comes about: The brain controls the position of the pelvis and causes the legs to adjust their position accordingly. According to Srinivasan, we do not go where we want, but "in the direction we fall".

"We don't go where we want, but in the direction in which we fall"
(Manoj Srinivasan, Ohio State University)

Because the human equilibrium system is made up of so many interconnected parts, it can also be disturbed in many ways. Uneven ground, problems with your sense of balance, weak muscles or high speed can make it more difficult to keep yourself upright. Pregnancy, illness, or injuries - especially those of the legs - can affect the system so much that a fall becomes more likely. Inflammation, which is usually related to obesity, stress, injuries or infections, can also affect our balance and thereby change our gait. That too could increase the risk of falls.

The youth lose their balance

Asking people to stand on one leg with their eyes open or closed shows that the ability to maintain balance begins to decline by the age of 20. So in the middle of life, the likelihood of serious falls increases. But regardless of that, people fall more and more often. Analysis of data collected between 1999 and 2007 found that fatal falls among people between the ages of 45 and 64 in the United States increased by 44 percent. This increase spurs scientists on to find out which components of the complex system are getting out of step here.