Could boosting our mood be as simple as adjusting our posture?
Psychologists have long known that our mood affects our posture but studies are only now confirming that the reverse is true: our posture can influence our mood.
Strike a pose
Did your parents or teachers tell you to sit up straight when you were a kid? It turns out they were onto a good thing. While poor posture can result in muscle tension, fatigue, pain and headaches, it can also affect our state of mind. Study after study after study has shown that our posture not only affects our mood but can actually influence our physiology – affecting our breathing, nervous system, blood pressure, hormones and our brain chemistry.
It’s all related to our stress response. When we’re stressed, anxious, fearful or depressed we tend to hunch over and contract the body. The shoulders slump, the chest sinks and the hip flexors draw in. This creates muscle tension, restricts the ability to breathe deeply and sends a signal to the brain (via the vagus nerve) that we’re in danger. The brain responds with a good dose of adrenaline and cortisol which spikes our blood pressure, heart rate, tenses our muscles and puts us into the fight or flight response.
Researchers have now determined that just adopting a hunched, contracted posture is enough to trigger the stress response, irrespective of whether we’re actually stressed or not. The amygdala, our primal brain, can’t distinguish between real stress or bad posture and responds the only way it knows how – fight or flight.
So now that we know that posture can influence our mood and psychological state, how can we use this to our benefit?
Harvard Psychologists have determined that we can develop feelings of power and confidence simply by adopting certain postures, known as power poses. High power poses increase testosterone to boost our confidence and lower cortisol (stress hormone) to reduce our stress and anxiety levels. Hunching and slumping and adopting a closed or contracted posture elicits a the opposite response – reduces our confidence and increases our stress as measured by hormonal changes.