Dr. Kristen Mitteness
Stressed out? Check your posture.
Updated: Apr 3
I've been combing through the research on the spine's impact on physical and mental health for a while now. If you want to check out some of my previous information you can find it here and here. I've also explained the importance of spinals curves here. And I spend all of my days teaching the importance of spinal health and care to my patients. I just love this stuff.
When I came across the research article titled, Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial, you better believe I was excited! "Ooooooh, what do we know now?!"
The researchers wanted to know if posture could affect someone's ability to modulate his or her emotions. What a great question! I feel like this can be especially helpful when dealing with moody teenagers. You know, those moody boys who are constantly slumped over playing video games? I'm looking at you, kiddo.
They took 74 participants and used physio tape to encourage either an upright posture or a slumped forward posture. They then had them do a few tasks and take a few questionnaires.
Let me share with you their results and conclusion:
Results: Upright participants reported higher self-esteem, more arousal, better mood, and lower fear, compared to slumped participants. Linguistic analysis showed slumped participants used more negative emotion words, first-person singular pronouns, affective process words, sadness words, and fewer positive emotion words and total words during the speech. Upright participants had higher pulse pressure during and after the stressor.
Conclusions: Adopting an upright seated posture in the face of stress can maintain self-esteem, reduce negative mood, and increase positive mood compared to a slumped posture. Furthermore, sitting upright increases rate of speech and reduces self-focus. Sitting upright may be a simple behavioral strategy to help build resilience to stress. The research is consistent with embodied cognition theories that muscular and autonomic states influence emotional responding.
It's exciting to see this being studied. Unfortunately, posture is certainly not getting any better in the vast majority of the new patients I see in my practice, especially in the teenage boys who like to play video games (Hint: make them sit on the floor when they are playing. They'll have to use a variety of positions to stay comfortable and will get up and move around more often). I don't foresee our use of electronics decreasing any time soon. So rather than say, stop using them, I am going to say, start doing more activities that require real interaction and movement. And maybe sitting in a desk all day is not ideal for our little ones? (sarcasm).
When you or your children are feeling stressed out, take a moment to recognize the stress and actively sit up straighter. Even better, stand up. Being stressed out and then slumping into the biggest comfy chair you have probably feels amazing in the moment, but may only make your mood and resiliency worse. Could this be why working out when I am sad or stressed out improves my mood and ability to deal with the situation? Hmmmm....