How Posture Affects Mental Health?

May it be taught extensively or in passing; schools have always been particular in telling their students how to keep a straight and upright posture. You might have always been encouraged to maintain proper posture ever since you were younger … and there is a good reason why so. 

There is no doubt that proper posture brings good health. It brings many health benefits, most notably to the musculoskeletal system, where it maintains proper spine alignment, avoids muscle strain, and avoids back pain. 

It does not end there. Keeping in mind the World Health Organization’s definition of health that “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” it now leaves the question of whether or not proper posture brings good health in its complete form. 

Beyond being physically healthy, let us explore how proper posture and mental and social health correlate.

What is a Good Posture?

According to the Cleveland Clinic, posture is the stance in which you proceed with your daily tasks. These tasks and postures may even be divided into two according to MedlinePlus: 

  • the dynamic posture that you maintain when you are moving, such as during walking, running, or bending over to get something; and
  • the static posture that you maintain when you are not moving, such as when you are sitting, standing, or sleeping.

A good posture entails giving the least stress to your muscles and ligaments (the elastic fibers that keep your bones together) as you go along with these tasks. Moreover, it is also important to keep in mind that your spine has three natural curves, at your neck, mid-back, and low back, and these should be maintained (not overarched) into what is known as a neutral position for a good posture.

The following are the recommended positions for good posture in the corresponding tasks:

  • While walking, keep in mind to stand straight with relaxed shoulders, with your head looking straight ahead, and with your chin up. Core muscles (or the muscles on your abdomen and back) should also be managed by tightening them. Arms should be swung back and forth at your sides, and your steps should be made from heel to toe and not the other way around.
  • While sitting, remember not to be in the same position for 30 minutes — take breaks (such as by walking around) and switch positions often. Make your feet touch the floor and ensure that the back of your knees is not too far from the edge of the seat. Relax your shoulders and keep your elbows as close to your body as possible. Make sure that your back, hips, and thighs are properly supported. Avoid slouching and crossing your legs together.

Exercises for Proper Posture

Some exercises may help correct the posture by relieving the stress and tension and strengthening the muscles involved in maintaining good posture. These include the following:

  • Bridges, when done properly, help by strengthening the core muscles, shoulders, and glutes, which thereby improve your balance and ease your lower back pain. These improve your posture when sitting down, standing, and when lifting heavy objects.
  • Planks target your back, chest, shoulders, neck, and abs, which, as mentioned earlier, are important components in maintaining proper posture. When done properly, planks help maintain a neutral position due to the ease of movement of muscles that this exercise targets.  
  • Hip flexor stretches to improve the strength and flexibility of the muscles they target (the hip flexors), thus loosening the hip flexor muscles and joints, leading to relief of low back pain. With less stress and improved strength of these muscles, balance and coordination will be improved, and, consequently, your posture will also be improved.
  • The Mountain Pose or Tadasana is a basic yoga position that is said to be the foundation of standing yoga poses. It targets the back muscles, therefore strengthening them, which then help these muscles in keeping your balance and maintaining a neutral position, which is essential in keeping a good posture.
  •  The Child’s Pose is another yoga pose in which the muscles of the back, hips, thighs, and ankles are stretched and strengthened. This exercise also helps relieve lower back pain and improve your posture, similar to the other exercises mentioned above.

Good Posture for Better Focus and Attention

Good posture brings better lung function, which brings more oxygen to all parts of the body, especially the brain. More oxygen and blood flow means better brain functioning, which then helps you think more efficiently and effectively. 

A study by Zloteanu, et al. (2021) has found out that the sitting posture of judges has an effect on how they perceive who the truth-teller or liars are, which may be due to differences in the attention of the judges, ability to focus on nonverbal cues, and in their information processing. 

Good Posture for a Better Stress Response

Good posture contributes to better stress management, as demonstrated by the study of Nair, et al. (2015). Their findings suggest that posture has an effect on the mood, behavior, and physiology of a person. That is, in comparison to a slouched posture, an upright posture enables their respondents to have a better outlook and self-esteem, reduces negative thoughts, and increases the rate of speech. 

As stated earlier, good posture helps increase oxygen levels in the brain, which also helps in reducing stress. Moreover, the pain brought by the tension in the muscles responsible for posture due to a slouched posture increases stress, and thus, when this pain is relieved by proper posture and the exercises mentioned earlier, it is to be expected that stress will be relieved.   

Good Posture for Relief of Anxiety and Depression

Good posture relieves anxiety in the same way stress is relieved, in that better oxygen and blood flow to the brain enables this effect. Posture manipulations are used in embodiment interventions to bring an overall improvement in mental health, as seen in several studies on this topic. 

In a study by Peper, et al. (2019), results showed that an upright body position complemented with thinking healthy thoughts and taking a deep breath helped reduce anxiety levels. Similarly, reduced state anxiety in student populations was observed by Weineck et al. (2020), even in normal, good postures, as compared to “power” postures (i.e., good postures are enough to bring improvements in your mental health and “power” posture may only give additional confidence). 

Good posture helps build and improve your self-image, which is an important aspect of improving depression symptoms. Increased energy and mood are also expected when you observe better postures. You are also expected to think smarter and more positively with better postures, which are also linked to feeling better emotionally. 

Getting tasks done due to more efficient brain functioning is also to be expected, making you prouder of your accomplishment and, in turn, helping symptoms of depression be relieved. Moreover, in connection to a better stress response mentioned earlier, good posture also helps relieve depression since stress also contributes to this pathological mental state. 

Good Posture and a Better Social Life

Since good posture gives you better mental health, as mentioned earlier, it then gives you a better outlook in life and makes you happier. Additionally, good posture not only makes you feel good about yourself, but it also helps others feel good about you, too! 

Compared to a slouched posture, where you appear sloppy and less welcoming, an upright posture makes you look reassuring and warm as more areas of your body can be seen by people, especially your face. Similarly, you will also look better overall with a good posture, leading to you receiving compliments from others, which in turn makes you feel better about yourself. 

Good posture also helps make you look smarter and more confident, which are important in making good impressions not only socially but also at work. When you have good posture, you will have better brain functioning, which is important in being more efficient for work, and people are also more likely to believe in your suggestions and capabilities when they see you looking confident with your good posture.

Final Thoughts

With our busy lifestyle where we spend most of our time in front of our computers, we may tend to not think of our postures and consider them as the least priority. We may even think of good posture as a hassle, while slouching is a more comfortable position. 

However, while it is easier to slouch down to mind your posture, always be reminded of all the things that were discussed here. Proper posture, as simple as it is, is beneficial to your health in all its aspects — physical, mental, and social well-being. 

However, do note that for a more sustainable effect, good posture must always be combined with therapies suitable for anxiety and depression. While good posture is proven to bring good effects mentally, it is still a must for patients with anxiety and depression or other mental health disorders to seek professional help.