“Sit Up Straight!” The Mental Health Benefits of Good Posture


Coping with Stress

Remember when your mother told you to “sit up straight?” Apart from what your mother may have considered proper decorum, good posture appears to have many surprising mental health benefits.

By the end of the stress-inducing task, participants sitting in an upright posture displayed an overall more positive emotional state compared to those in the slumped posture group. Specifically, the upright position group reported higher self-esteem, as well as “feeling more enthusiastic, excited, and strong, while the slumped participants reported feeling more fearful, hostile, nervous, quiet, still, passive, dull, sleepy, and sluggish.” So how exactly does posture affect our ability to cope with stress? The study’s researchers posit that the explanatory mechanism behind their findings might have something to do with arousal and what cognitive scientists are now calling “embodied cognition.” Namely, the upright condition group exhibited an increase in physiological arousal, i.e. a spike in pulse pressure and cardiac output, which enabled an active coping response to stress. Conversely, a slumped back posture, leading to lower levels of arousal, likely prompted participants in that condition to become more susceptible to stress, dealing with it passively and exhibiting more of a helplessness-type response.

Embodied cognition essentially describes the interrelationship between mind and body, in other words, how bodily experiences can affect cognitive and emotional states, and vice versa. Here, the researchers theorize that as the brain receives muscular and hormonal signals with information about bodily posture, it then translates those signals into emotions. Think about it like this: “If I’m feeling sad and stressed, I am more likely to sit in a slumped position. And if I’m sitting in a slumped position, I am more likely to be sad and stressed.” At the same time, because this study did not include a more ‘neutral’ posture —> Read More