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The Effects of Posture on Mental Health

22 May 2023

Japanese martial artist Morihei Ueshiba said, "A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind."

When we think of posture, we usually think of things like how our upper body looks, how straight our back is, and whether we are looking up or down - all things related to physical health. While this is also an important part of posture, one thing that is very frequently overlooked is how posture can affect our mental health as well.

Yes, how you sit can affect your mental well-being! Poor posture can cause plenty of problems from a physical health perspective, but just as many from a mental health one as well. Since our bodies are very interconnected, physical and mental health both impact each other. Therefore, it's understandable that something that isn't good for our physical bodies wouldn't be so great for our minds as well.

Let's take a look at the effects of posture on mental health and what you can do to improve poor posture.

How Posture Affects Mental Health


Confidence

We know that slouching is often associated with a lack of confidence, but does that necessarily mean that there is a real link? While there are conflicting opinions on whether or not "power poses" can really affect confidence, a study carried out in 2015 showed that there may be a link.

In this study, people who stood with "power poses" tended to be more confident about themselves and performed much better in interviews than their peers who were slouching. Power poses are what we generally consider good posture - back straight, chin up, shoulders squared.

But while there is still room for more research, it is true that people have reported feeling more confident when they stand in a power pose. In fact, power poses tend to boost the production of testosterone and reduce the level of cortisol in the body, which helps with improving confidence.

One other way posture may affect confidence is somewhat linked to biology. When you're sitting with poor posture - slouching or leaning forward when you should be sitting straight back - you are reducing your lung capacity, and therefore the amount of oxygen that is capable of reaching your body - including the brain!

With less oxygen, your brain isn't giving you optimal performance, and that naturally results in poorer decision-making. As a result, you may feel less confident about yourself. Though it may seem silly, the long-term effects of poor posture shouldn't be underestimated.



Stress

Another effect of reduced lung capacity comes in the form of increased stress. When you sit like this, with your lungs unable to function at their best, you are likely to be breathing very shallowly, which happens when the diaphragm is not fully engaged in the process. When this happens, the oxygen you breathe doesn't reach all the way through your lungs, and thus only your chest expands.

Not being able to breathe well is a clear sign that something is wrong, so the rest of your body is immediately alerted. The sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body's fight or flight response, gets activated and increases the level of cortisol in the body. Cortisol is the stress hormone that will usually be used to push you to take action against the unpleasant stimulus or threat (in this case, whatever is causing shallow breathing).

However, because there is no unpleasant stimulus or threat to deal with, you aren't going to take any action, since you know that you aren't in any danger. Your body doesn't, though! It simply increases the level of cortisol in your body and makes you feel more and more stressed.

All it takes to reduce this is to improve your posture and thus, your lung capacity. When you breathe more deeply, your parasympathetic nervous system gets activated, and cortisol levels go down.



Anxiety

Did you know how you sit could be contributing towards your anxiety? This is also a result of the breathing troubles associated with poor posture. When your breathing is shallow, you do get more stressed, but you are also likely to feel anxious about it because your body suspects that something is wrong.

To you, there is no real reason to be anxious, so you'd find yourself feeling anxious for no reason. This can get bad enough to cause panic attacks!

As time goes on, the sympathetic nervous system becomes more and more active and you'd find prolonged and persistent symptoms of anxiety.

All it takes to reduce these and feel better is to sit up straight and improve your breathing. In fact, anxiety often also comes with depression as a comorbid disorder, and sitting up straight has been shown to reduce symptoms of both.

Good posture also helps with reducing fatigue, which is often associated with depression.



Energy Levels

Posture also affects how good you feel about yourself and how energetic you are. When you have good posture, your muscles will function a lot better with minimal effort required. This means that you are not using up extra energy just to keep your muscles functioning, and thus have more energy to spare for other tasks.

Not only does this mean your energy levels go up, but high energy levels are also associated with better moods. In fact, studies show that people with good posture tend to be more positive about the world, and are less likely to be fatigued and sleepy.



Resilience

While posture can worsen for a number of reasons, we don't usually start off that way. Most of us will be sitting upright when we start, but find ourselves bending over the desk slowly over the course of the day until we are slouching.

This is because our posture changes when we have either lost focus or find ourselves under stress. When you are faced with a difficult or challenging task, you are more likely to slouch. However, good posture doesn't just help you stay alert - if only because it takes effort to sit up! - but also allows you to be more resilient while you work on various tasks.

Some studies show that people who had good posture displayed more perseverance than those with bad posture - even when it came to problems that seemed to be unsolvable. Good posture doesn't just get rid of the brain fog, it also reduces mental exhaustion and helps you focus.



Mood

We talked about how people with good posture and thus, higher energy levels, tend to have a more positive outlook on the world. This is because good posture uses up less energy.

However, it is also true that bad posture tends to affect mood negatively because of all the pains and aches associated with bad posture. It does make sense that if you are constantly plagued by various health problems, you are going to be in a bad mood, especially since you'd be feeling discomfort and also be too distracted by your pain to focus on your daily tasks.

Not only does this affect your mood, but it also affects the quality of your output, and thus, also affects your confidence, anxiety, and stress levels.

So, really, posture is linked to all of these things in more than one way.



Improving Posture

So, we know how poor posture can affect us, but what can we do about it?

The first thing is to educate yourself on what good posture is. Good posture varies depending on what you are doing. Good sitting posture is different from good standing posture, for example.

However, for most people, it is sitting posture that causes the most problems, especially since we spend so much of our time sitting. The best way to improve your posture is to get yourself an ergonomic chair like FlexiSpot's Ergonomic Office Chair BS7 which comes with all sorts of features designed to make sure your body remains supported and your posture correct.

You should also try to be more mindful about your posture. Catch yourself when you think you're starting to slouch and sit up. Think harder about how you sit or stand when you're doing anything at all. It may take some effort at the start, but can easily become a part of your muscle memory and soon you'll find yourself catching your posture problems before they even start.

It's also important to be active. To maintain good posture, you need to strengthen your muscles, and you can't do so if you don't provide your body with some daily exercise! Exercises for your abdominal muscles can strengthen the spine, but other activities like yoga or tai chi can help with making you more aware of your body and how it moves so you can adjust your posture accordingly.

It isn't difficult to correct your posture! All you need is some dedication and resilience - which you can get more of as you keep focusing on posture! - and over time you'll find that you've managed to train yourself into sitting and standing the right way!