• Dr. Shantai Watson

Stress & Posture

Did you know - if you hold a smile on your face, you’re more likely to feel glad and if you hold a frown on your face, you’re more likely to feel sad?

Our emotions and our facial expressions are a two way street! You might feel happy and then smile, but you might also smile and then feel happy!

This is a great life hack. For example: imagine you’re driving in traffic. You’re late, you missed an exit AND you got cut off. Now, you’re in a real bad mood. Before you walk into your destination frazzled and upset, like a lunatic, you sit in your car and hold a giant smile on your face for 15 seconds (like a different kind of lunatic). Possible results:

A. You forget everything else when you’re trying THIS hard to smile

B. Science says smiling would make you happier, so it does

C. A random passerby witnesses your insanity, and their reaction makes your whole day

It’s a WIN WIN situation!

This two way street applies to our body language too.

Imagine a person sitting on a chair at a table. They are excited to be there, interested in what’s going on, and responding enthusiastically.

How are they seated?

Now imagine another person seated at a table. They are so upset at that mini van for cutting them off, making them miss their exit and making them late. They’re stressed, they don’t want to have a conversation right now, and - why does this always happen to them? It’s not fair!

How are they seated?

I imagine the first person sitting straight up, head and eyes up, maybe leaning forward.

I imagine the second person arms crossed, leaning back, looking down and slumped forward.

What do you think would happen to their frames of mind if they swapped body positions?

Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial ( Nair, et al., 2015)

In 2015, 74 participants at the University of Auckland were divided in 2 groups: slumped position and upright position. Tape was placed on their backs to remind participants to retain the position. They held their slump or upright position for a total of 30 mins.

Then, they were then given a reading task (3 mins - reading out loud “how to wash clothes”) and a stress task (5 min to prepare a speech to convince a panel that they are best suited for their dream job).

These speeches were then transcribed and analyzed using text analysis software.

What did they find?

Based on the words used, the text analysis software showed that the participants with the upright posture had a more positive mood. The upright participants reported feeling more enthusiastic, excited, and strong, while the slumped participants reported feeling more fearful, hostile, nervous, quiet, still, passive, dull, sleepy, and sluggish. The upright participants also reported higher self-esteem and reduced fear compared to slumped participants.

A slumped posture increased the stress response.

In other studies

  • An expansive whole body posture produced feelings of power, increased testosterone, lowered cortisol, and increased tolerance of risk compared to a contracted posture (Carney, Cuddy, & Yap, 2010)

The relationship between posture and mental state is so well established that the DSM 5 (the diagnostic manual used by mental health professionals) includes stooped posture when sitting as criteria for diagnosing a major depressive episode.

Our brain is a 2 way street

Our brain can feel confident and happy, and decide to sit upright with good posture to communicate it. However we can also be seated upright with good posture, and our brain can notice it, and decide to feel confident and happy.

On the other hand, being stressed makes us more likely to want to sit in a slouched position. And sitting in a slouched position makes us more stressed. Stress is shown to negatively affect the immune response. Sit up straight!!

How do I improve my posture?

1. First, what is good posture?

Imagine a straight plumb line from ears to shoulders, to ball and socket hip joint, to knees, to ankles. This is the ideal biomechanical position. Most common issues we see:

-Forward head posture - weight of the head is the equivalent of a bowling ball. This weight is increased 10 pounds for every inch your head moves forward! This causes an increased load on your suboccipital muscles below your skull and your upper shoulder muscles such as your traps. This may leave you more likely to experience pain and headaches.

-Anterior pelvic tilt - hips tilt forward, and your belly goes closer to your legs and your bum goes up in the air.

2. Lengthening and strengthening the right muscles:

Forward head posture is often caused by “Upper Cross Syndrome" which includes - tight chest muscles, traps and levator scapulae (upper shoulder muscles) and stretched/weak cervical flexors, lower traps, serratus anterior and rhomboids (muscle between your shoulder blades).

Anterior pelvic tilt is often caused by “Lower Cross Syndrome” which includes - tight hip flexors and low back muscles, and weak/stretched glutes and core muscles.

Generally this means: strengthening the weak muscles and stretching/soft tissue work to the tight muscles.

3. Body awareness:

Postural awareness is the conscious awareness of body posture, based on proprioceptive feedback from the body to the brain. We can work on strengthening and stretching the appropriate muscles, but in order to apply these changes to your day to day life, we must develop a sharpened sense of postural awareness. Studies have shown that improving habitual postural patterns might lead to improvements in musculoskeletal pain conditions and prevent chronification or further deterioration [26,27,28]. This means having the body awareness to notice when your head is shifted forward or your shoulders are rolled, and fixing it with cues such as: -imagining a string is pulling you from the ceiling to your head - pinching your shoulder blades together - being aware when your computer screen is too low or too high.

4. Chiropractic:

As chiropractors, we are trained to identify postural and movement abnormalities, and figure out how to fix it. Through prescribing exercises, soft tissue work and adjustments, we allow your body to move better, and be in better alignment. By working with the joints in the spine, where the spinal nerves from the spinal cord from the brain exit, we allow the brain to communicate better with the body, and the body to communicate better with the brain

SO, to recap, a poem (LOL)

Work on your posture by:

1. Identifying the problems

2. Lengthening and strengthening the right muscles

3. Learning postural awareness

4. Getting adjusted

If you find the most postural troubles at your workstation, learning about proper ergonomics, or having an ergonomic evaluation can prove invaluable not only to reduce your musculoskeletal pain, but also to lower your stress levels.

What do you guys think? Have you ever noticed this relationship between posture and stress?

If you are interested in a virtual ergonomic evaluation, or a complete postural evaluation, call 720-509-9379 for more information, or book here.

Take care and sit up straight!!

Dr. Shantai Watson

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