These instructions, which I’m sure you heard more than once from some well-meaning adult when you were a kid, are wise for several reasons – which they probably didn’t even know at the time. As it turns out, paying attention to your posture can make a big difference in your mood.
Think of how you feel physically and mentally when you’re slouching. Now, think of how differently you feel when you’re standing tall, upright, and alert. Research is proving that your posture impacts both your mood and brain function almost immediately.
The Relationship Between Posture and Mood
I’m betting that you’ve noticed you that your mood changes when your posture does or vice versa. After decades of studying posture, researchers determined that posture and mood are directly linked. In fact, one 2003 study at Ohio State University found that simple body movements can influence the way that people think about a topic.
The study found that the act of nodding “yes” gave people more confidence. However, shaking their head “no” had the opposite effect and lowered confidence levels. Researchers concluded that these physical movements, along with other gestures, don’t just allow us to communicate with others. They also impact our own opinions. The Ohio State study also found that some movements, like smiling, affect our attitudes. In fact, our faces don’t just reflect emotions, they originate them as well.
Through various experiments, Dr. Erik Peper at San Francisco State University determined how body posture affected subjective energy level as well as a person’s ability to generate positive and negative thoughts. In one experiment, his test subjects either skipped, swinging their arms in an upward motion or slouched as they walked down a hall. Almost all of the skipping participants reported feeling more energetic, happier, and positive. Those who had slouched reported nearly the opposite emotions. They felt sad, lonely, isolated, sleeping, and “zombie-like.”
Other research found that when you sit up straight in your chair you have more confidence in your own thoughts.
In another study involving 62 students at Columbia University, researchers from Harvard Business School discovered that posture affected their attitude and memory. The students did some “power poses” prior to giving their speeches. Their powerful postures positively affected their performances.
Strike a Power Pose
A power pose looks like good posture with your shoulders back and open, rather than forward and down. You can put your hands on your hips and puff out your chest. Chin up. Think Superman. Striking a power pose isn’t about just pretending. It’s about actually changing your hormones. Power posing increases levels of testosterone and decreases levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in your brain.
You can watch Amy Cuddy’s 2012 TED talk to get more information. In the talk, Amy tells us that two minutes of power poses a day can change how we feel about ourselves. Cuddy’s message is that how we hold our bodies impacts our brains. The evidence for power posing came from a study that she completed while at Harvard University. Cuddy’s study came under harsh criticism with all the popularity of her Ted Talk. However, in an academic paper published subsequently in Psychological Science in 2017, Cuddy offers ample scientific evidence that adopting an expansive posture does make people feel more powerful.
Interestingly, testosterone is released when you sit or stand with good posture. More testosterone means more self-confidence. A social psychologist, Dana Carney from the University of California at Berkeley found that good posture increased testosterone and decreased cortisol.
On the other hand, when people slouch and slump their head and shoulders, their mood suffers according to a study published in Health Psychology. Researchers assigned a slumped or straight posture to 74 people in New Zealand. Their blood pressure and heart rates were measured as they completed a series of tasks designed to assess their mood, self-esteem and stress levels. The slumped participants reported feeling more fearful, hostile, nervous, quiet, still, passive, dull, sleepy, and sluggish. Good posture was associated with higher self-esteem, less social fear and fewer negative emotions. The participants with good posture even had stronger pulse responses than their slumped friends.
Other People Form Opinions of You Based on Your Posture
In addition to the physical reaction of the body, there’s another important reason why your posture affects your mood. Cuddy’s research also showed that your posture and body language influence the way other people perceive and respond to you. Imagine going to a job interview with your shoulders slumped forward and your eyes looking down at the floor. What impression do you think you’re going to make? Most likely, the interviewer would think that you lack confidence and would respond to you accordingly. But, imagine going to the interview with your posture upright, your shoulders back, and your gaze forward. The interviewer would see you as a whole different person.
So, What Exactly Is Good Posture?
Good posture really involves proper alignment of the spine. It can be done while sitting, standing, sleeping, and moving. While sitting, you will want to be upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Your shoulders should be relaxed and back and knees should be in line with the hips. Your eyes should look forward, so the head doesn’t tilt up or down. Crossing your legs or forcing your spine too straight is not good posture.
When standing, the same is true of the head and shoulders. You want to wear shoes that are comfortable and supportive. Your knees should have a slight bend, and your stomach muscles should keep you upright. Wearing high heels or over-exaggerating the chest in or out is not going to be good for your posture.
Habits Can Affect Posture and Create Pain
Unfortunately, our habits – especially those relating to mobile phones and computers – don’t help us maintain good posture. When we use our mobile phones, we slouch and look down – exactly the opposite of healthy posture. Repeatedly sitting and standing with poor posture will negatively affect your body over time. Muscles can become weak and the spine can become affected. Weak muscles and poor posture can lead to pain and other problems.
The more you slouch, the more likely you are to experience neck and shoulder discomfort. People with poor posture can often experience headaches. Pain can lead to taking medication which is only a band-aid, not a cure and can lead to more problems.
Posture Can Be Changed
Instead, you can pay closer attention to the way you sit, stand, sleep, and move throughout the day. Your body is all connected. When one thing is out of place, the entire body can be affected. When that one thing is your spine, then the body can be greatly affected. When you consider that the spine and brain are connected, it’s easy to see why behavior and attitude are so greatly affected by posture.
Fortunately, there are ways to change your posture and improve your mood. Chiropractic care helps to realign the spine and improve posture. Regular exercise, especially yoga, will also help improve posture. Yoga poses remind us to keep our shoulders back and eventually, that repeated posture becomes the norm.
It can also be helpful to remind yourself through the day to sit or stand up straight. For example, when you’re sitting in the car, consciously think about maintaining good posture. It can also be helpful to have a friend, family member, or colleague at work remind us when we start to slouch. Little consistent changes, over time, can mean big improvements.
About Dr. Wells
Dr. Brent Wells is the founder of Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab, a massage therapy center and chiropractic clinic in Anchorage. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using various services designed to help give you long-lasting relief.
Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.