• Good posture isn't just about how we look, but can have a significant impact on how we feel and how others perceive us

  • Therapist Fiona Austin explores the impact of posture and movement on mental health

Most people think of posture as something that simply affects the way we look. But posture is much more than that. It can say a lot about our mood, and even our health.

For example, did you know that how you sit can actually somewhat increase or decrease your risk of depression? That's because the way we sit can have a major impact on our emotions and thoughts. Further, it's not just depression that can be affected. Posture can also play a role in our confidence and stress levels, and even our immune system function.

So if you're looking to improve your mood, your health, or your overall wellbeing, why not start paying attention to your posture? 

How does posture affect our mood?

When you think of posture, what comes to mind? For most people, posture is about keeping the spine straight and the body erect. It's about looking poised and in control. It can also be about protecting our physical health, guarding against neck pain and back pain. But our posture can tell us a lot more than that.

Studies have shown that our mood and emotions are physically stored in our body, and the way we stand, sit, or move can directly influence how we’re feeling. Also you may have noticed that if you become overwhelmed by thoughts and emotions, your body is the first to respond.

For example, if you tend to slouch or hunch over when you’re feeling down, you may be subconsciously trying to protect yourself from any further harm. On the other hand, if you stand tall and confident in a 'power pose' when facing a challenge, it can boost your confidence and put you in control of the situation.

Moods and emotions are powerful forces that can shape our lives in profound ways. If you catch yourself feeling overwhelmed or out of sorts, take a moment to check in with your body. 

Sitting and the effect on health

Now that we know how posture can affect your mood, let’s think about what happens when we sit—for too long! We know that sitting is bad for our health, but did you know that it can also have a negative effect on our emotional wellbeing?

Studies have shown that too much sitting can increase stress levels and leave us feeling more anxious and depressed. That’s because when we sit, our bodies become tense and the hormones responsible for keeping us calm are inhibited. Our breathing becomes more shallow which also has an overall effect on our biology. 

As a result, we're in a state where it is easy to become overwhelmed by our thoughts and feelings. It’s important to note that if you’re feeling down or anxious while at your computer, try sitting up straight with your shoulders back and your chin lifted – even if it’s just for a few minutes. You might just find yourself feeling more grounded in yourself, more confident in your abilities, and better equipped to handle whatever life throws at you – at the very least another video meeting!

If you’ve been sedentary for too long, get up and move! The power of movement can have a calming effect on your body—and potentially your mind as well. Our common sense wants us to get out into nature, take a walk in the park, or just stand up and stretch. 

So the next time you’re feeling down or anxious, try standing up straight and taking some deep breaths. Start to notice the story in your body because our thoughts and emotions live there too.

Actionable tips to improve your posture:

  • Make sure to pay attention to your posture throughout the day
  • Stand with your feet apart and your shoulders back as if a straight thread aligns you from the top of your head to the base of your spine
  • When sitting make sure your feet flat are on the floor with your back straight
  • Engage your core to ensure your spine is properly aligned
  • Start stretching regularly to improve your flexibility
  • Practise meditation or mindfulness while relaxing any tight muscles in your body
  • Listen to your body and take regular breaks to stretch
  • Take time to breathe deeply during your day.
  • Exercise regularly, especially activities such as yoga and Pilates which help to improve body posture
  • Set up your workspace chair and desk correctly to ensure you’re not slouching
  • Avoid hunching or slouching while using your mobile or on the phone.
  • Note: If you’re in pain, consult a doctor or physical therapist to determine the cause and the best exercises to help you improve your posture

Fiona Austin is a verified Welldoing therapist in West London and online

Further reading

Forget perfect: consistency is key in fitness

How body dysmorphia distorts reality

How can therapy help chronic pain and illness?

How breathwork changed my life