People who suffer with anxiety often have a way of looking heavy and burdened. It’s not surprising, as they often feel vulnerable, exposed or threatened. The consequence of this is that posture can suffer. Typically the person who is stressed or anxious curls inwards. It’s a subconscious mechanism where we try to protect ourselves. Physically it reveals itself in curved backs and slumped shoulders but the consequences of poor posture are far reaching, for both body and mood.
Sitting, standing and walking correctly can take a little practice if you aren’t used to it. It can be helpful to check the mirror to see how you stand normally, or even better, get someone who knows about improving your posture (a physiotherapist, yoga instructor, physical trainer) to offer you some feedback. Is it worth all the effort? Yes, is the short answer and here are some of the reasons why.
In people who are anxious, or prone to panic, their breathing is often quite shallow and often a little rapid. A slumped posture increases chest compression and the full capacity of the lungs is under used. During stressful moments there is a danger of over-breathing which leads to chest pressure, light-headedness, tingling and increased heart rate. In some people these bodily sensations may be misinterpreted, leading to panic.
Sitting correctly immediately opens the airways and improves circulation. The importance of an effective circulation, feeding organs and the nervous system with necessary oxygen, should not be under-estimated.
One of the ways to boost your self-esteem and self-confidence comes from good posture. In 2009, a study reported in the European Journal of Social Psychology, illustrated just how influential posture could be. Volunteer job applicants were asked to complete their mock application forms adopting a slumped sitting or upright posture. The findings revealed that those who slumped were less effective in listing their perceived strengths and less likely to articulate why they should be considered a good candidate for the post.
In the treatment of anxiety and panic, quite a lot of attention is given to correct breathing. I don’t think there is a therapeutic approach around that doesn’t, in some way, indicate the importance of correct posture and breathing. The simple act of changing your breathing pattern can quickly change your mood. Breathing steadily and smoothly through the nose quickly helps to relax the body and improve mood.
Brinol, P., Petty, R.E., & Wagner, B. (2009). Body posture effects on self-evaluation: a self-validation approach. European Journal of Social Psychology, 39, 1053-1064.
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.