Mental Health 9 MIN READ

Can Poor Posture Affect Your Mental Health?

When we think of posture, we usually attribute it to the way our upper body looks: the physical straightness of the spine, the neck and shoulders. While there is extensive research on how good posture impacts the body—particularly the spine and spinal health–-other research is being conducted on the effects of posture on mental health.

Written by Ashima Raizada

Aug 03, 2022
poor posture health

When we think of posture, we usually attribute it to the way our upper body looks: the physical straightness of the spine, neck, and shoulders. While there is extensive research on how good posture impacts the body—particularly the spine and spinal health–-other research is being conducted on the effects of posture on mental health. We know that physical ailments deeply impact our mental health and mental ailments manifest in the physical body in the form of pains and diseases.

Since the body is highly interconnected, it is only natural to assume that our posture can affect our mental state and vice versa. But how is this possible? What contributes to this mental health shift, and can it be reverted with the mere improvement of our posture? These are some of the avenues we seek to explore in this article.

Highlights

  • Proper posture ensures proper alignment of bones and joints, decreasing wear and tear of the supportive structures.
  • Good posture improves confidence, reduces stress, reduces anxiety and depression, improves mood and energy levels, and increases resilience.
  • Being mindful, staying active, being within optimal weight range, wearing good shoes, and driving with good posture are some of the ways to improve posture.
mental health posture

What are posture and good posture?

To begin with, it is imperative to understand what posture and good posture mean. Posture, in simple terms, is how the body is aligned while sitting, standing, or lying down. This could be in an active or inactive state. It more specifically refers to the position of the spine in these states.

Every human being has a natural curve in their upper (cervical), middle (thoracic), and lower (lumbar) spine. These curves need to be maintained, which means that they should not go beyond or below their normal range so that the spine can hold the body up without putting excess strain on its support structures—muscles, bones, and ligaments. This maintenance happens when the muscles surrounding the spine are strong, thereby balancing and supporting the body equally.

There are two types of postures:

1. Static posture

This is how the body holds itself when it is stationary; for example, while standing, sitting or lying down.

2. Dynamic posture

This is how the body holds itself when it is in a state of motion, such as while walking, running and swimming.

Good posture while sitting down is when your feet are touching the floor, there is equal weight or pressure on both sides of your hips, your back is straight (maintaining all natural curves), your shoulders are back and relaxed, and your chin is parallel to the floor, and your ears line up with your collarbone.

While standing, however, there should be a slight bend in the knees, your ears should be aligned with your shoulders, your chin should be parallel to the floor, your shoulders should align with your hips, and your weight should be evenly distributed between the two feet. Proper posture ensures proper alignment of bones and joints, decreasing wear and tear of the supportive structures.

Why is posture important?

We’ve all heard the phrases “walk tall” or “sit up straight” numerous times from well-wishers in our lives. Most of us have always had an inherent insight into the benefits of good posture. But good posture is also crucial for overall health and well-being. It is almost as important as nutrition and working out are for the body. It can have immense physical and psychological benefits.

Correct alignment of the body allows it to move without any strain or excess wear and tear of the joints, muscles, and ligaments. It alleviates back and neck pain and improves confidence, energy levels, and lung capacity. But how can it impact our mental health exactly? Let’s understand that in more detail.

poor posture affectshealth

How does posture influence your mental health?

Although it is not commonly known or understood, your posture directly impacts your mental health. Here is how:

1. Increases confidence: Slouching is commonly associated with a lack of confidence. There have been conflicting opinions on “power poses” and their ability to alter confidence levels. A power pose is a pose in which your chest is upright, your spine straight and your shoulders squared.

A study conducted in 2015 by Amy Cuddy, a psychologist from Harvard University, revealed that people who stood with their chest upright found themselves more confident and performed better in interviews compared to people who had a tendency to slouch. This theory is not conclusive, but reports have shown that people tend to feel better when they stand in a power pose. High power poses increase testosterone and reduces cortisol, thereby increasing confidence.

Researchers also found that people who were asked to sit upright tended to believe their own views and opinions about their qualifications vs those who were asked to slouch, who were less likely to accept their own views. In other words, people with better postures had more confidence in their abilities. Another possible explanation for the correlation between confidence and posture is the amount of air that goes into your lungs when you stand tall.

Slouching or leaning forward can diminish lung capacity, reducing the amount of oxygen reaching the body’s tissues, including the brain, by 30%. This means that better posture will allow your body to use its lungs to the optimal capacity, leading to a calmer demeanor and better decision-making, thereby improving confidence.

2. Reduces stress: As we have seen above, bad posture induces shallow breathing. Shallow breathing is when the diaphragm is not engaged in the breathing process. When this happens, oxygen doesn’t reach very far down the lungs, causing only the chest region to expand.

As a result, the sympathetic nervous system—responsible for the body’s fight-or-flight response—gets activated, increasing cortisol and, therefore, the stress in the body. A simple improvement in posture can help increase your lung capacity, stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and reduce your cortisol levels.

3. Reduces anxiety and depression: A study conducted by Harvard University revealed that sitting up straight improved symptoms of anxiety and depression. Altered breathing caused by bad posture induces and exacerbates the level of anxiety, sometimes even causing panic attacks if the breathing becomes very shallow. Since the body’s sympathetic nervous system is extremely active at this point, the adrenaline and cortisol present in the blood increase, increasing the body’s anxiety level.

Over a prolonged period, the sympathetic nervous system dominates, leading to prolonged anxiety symptoms. Research shows that adopting an upright position may positively affect mild-to-moderate depression because it reduces fatigue and decreases self-focus.

4. Improves mood and energy levels: Posture—not just while sitting down but also in movement—affects your emotional well-being. Studies conducted on people with good and bad postures—where both groups were exposed to psychological stressors—reported that people who walk in an upright position tend to experience positive emotions and feel less sleepy.

Another study reported that walking upright may even increase energy levels and fight exhaustion. Additionally, physiologically, when the body’s posture is proper, the muscles function better with minimal effort, leading to less energy being expended and higher overall energy levels.

5. Improves resilience: Posture usually changes when the body is under stress and when you have lost focus. Studies conducted on students have shown that when people deal with difficult tasks, good body posture can help them stay alert and more resilient during such tasks compared to when they slouch. People in this study displayed higher perseverance even during seemingly unsolvable puzzles just because of good posture. Good posture also reduces mental exhaustion and quick fatigue in such situations.

mental health poorposture

How can you improve your posture?

There are many simple ways to improve your posture:

1. Being more mindful: The easiest way to improve your posture is to catch bad posture before it adversely impacts other parts of your body. Be mindful of how you’re sitting or standing when you wash the dishes, watch television, text, or walk.

2. Staying active: Staying active is another imperative step towards good posture. Most physical activities focus on keeping the body upright or in a good position. Additionally, it’s good practice in general to do exercises that strengthen your abdominal muscles that, in turn, help strengthen the spine. Activities such as yoga, tai chi, and strength and conditioning can help you become more aware of your body and its movements.

3. Maintaining a healthy weight: Extra weight around the abdomen can cause problems in the pelvis and spine. Therefore, shedding extra weight and strengthening the abdomen can help correct your posture.

4. Wearing comfortable shoes: Bad footwear, particularly heels, can change your posture and make you walk differently. In the long run, this can recruit incorrect muscles for static or dynamic movements, putting unnecessary stress on certain muscles, bones, and ligaments. Wearing low-heeled shoes or even zero-drop (no-heel shoes) can help strengthen the right muscles and prevent excess strain on the other ones.

5. Ensuring surfaces are of apt height: Whether it is your work desk, your dining table or your kitchen counter, ensure the height of these surfaces is appropriate for you so that you don’t have to slouch whenever you are working or doing chores.

6. Making small changes while sitting: Sitting is a big contributor to bad posture. While sitting, ensure your feet touch the ground, switch positions often, take a walk now and then, and relax your shoulders.

7. Sleeping correctly: Sleeping on a bad mattress can alter your posture. A hard mattress that allows your spine to retain its curves is ideal for good sleep and posture. If you sleep on your sides, keep the knees slightly bent but don’t hug them. Ensure your neck is at the same height as your spine. Using a thin pillow under the neck is ideal if you sleep on your back.

8. Driving with good posture: While driving, ensure you sit up straight and have a slight bend in the knees, which, in turn, should be at the same height as the hip or slightly higher.

Conclusion

Posture has an impact on not just our physical but also our mental health. The alignment of the body when you are sitting, standing, or lying down defines your posture. Good posture is important for the overall health and well-being of a person.

Mentally, it helps improve confidence, reduce stress, reduce anxiety and depression, improves mood and energy levels, and makes you more resilient. There are many ways to improve your posture, such as being more mindful and active, maintaining weight, wearing comfortable shoes, and sleeping correctly.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general information and educational purposes only. It neither provides any medical advice nor intends to substitute professional medical opinion on the treatment, diagnosis, prevention, or alleviation of any disease, disorder, or disability. Always consult with your doctor or qualified healthcare professional about your health condition and/or concerns before undertaking a new healthcare regimen including making any dietary or lifestyle changes.

References

  1. Science explains why good posture is the ultimate confidence boost
  2. Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance
  3. Body Posture Affects Confidence In Your Own Thoughts, Study Finds — ScienceDaily
  4. Deep VS Shallow Breathing – Causes, Dangers, Benefits, Exercises – Buteyko Clinic
  5. How Posture Influences Your Physical and Mental Health

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