Repetitive behaviour reduces stress

Repetitive behaviour in general is used by people as a way to induce calm and reduce stress, new research has shown. Investigators at Tel Aviv University (TAU) found that ritualistic practices in particular are adopted by individuals when faced with unpredictable or uncontrollable events.

According to the study, people often act in these ways because they help increase a person's belief that they are managing a situation that is otherwise out of their hands.

The report has been published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews and showed a patient with obsessive compulsive disorder, animals and sportsmen all have such repetitive behaviours in common.

Professor David Eilam of TAU's Department of Zoology at the George S Wise Faculty of Life Sciences - established in 1932 - said of a basketball player: "The routine they perform in the moments before shooting the ball is a method to focus their full concentration and control their actions."

Dr Jill Owen, a Chartered Psychologist, commented: "Repetitive behaviour and rituals can be very effective in increasing focus and reducing stress, providing the extent, nature and level of compulsion to engage in these actions does not negatively impact on the individual's life or performance. 

"In the case of an athlete, focusing on a relatively unobtrusive, specific routine before a moment of pressure can concentrate the mind constructively and avoid anxious or de-motivating thoughts so that performance is enhanced. In cases of obsessive compulsive disorder, the level of anxiety associated with the ritualistic behaviour is often such that only very temporary relief is gained, often followed by continued anxiety and further compulsion that has a detrimental impact."