The posture of people around you can tell you a lot about their mood, their emotions and even their personality.
You might be more inclined to start a conversation with someone who is smiling or standing tall with their body open and relaxed than you would with a person who is frowning with downcast eyes and their arms crossed over their body.
You might feel anxious or concerned about someone who looks sad, and you would probably give a wide berth to someone who looks angry or threatening.
But not only can the posture of people around you tell you about how they are feeling, your own posture can affect how you feel as well.
While some older Australians live with partners or family, many live alone, and current stay-at-home orders can be particularly challenging for those who do live alone or who rely on people outside their home for social support.
And while COVID-19 is front of mind for many at the moment, knowing how to use your posture to boost your mood is something we can all benefit from.
We know there are immense benefits for your physical health as well as your mental health when you exercise but it can be really hard to find the energy or motivation to go outside to exercise and move when the rest of your day is spent inside your home.
Maybe you are concerned about leaving your house at the moment because you don’t want to get sick, or perhaps you have been staying close to home and have fallen into the habit of not going out.
This lack of exercise and social contact can leave many of us feeling down and low in energy, but did you know that just changing your posture when you sit, or stand can have powerful effects on your mood and your mental health?
Take a moment to notice your own posture as you read this story. Are you sitting down with your chest slumped and your shoulders rolling forward or are you sitting upright with your chest lifted and your shoulders back? You might be standing in the kitchen or in a patch of sun near your window but notice whether you are standing strong and tall or whether you are slumped off onto one leg with your head down.
Now notice your mood – how do you feel today? How do you feel about facing the challenges of your day and how do you feel about the week ahead?
The research behind how our bodies can affect our minds is growing and there are some really simple things we can do to help us feel more confident and positive.
Research from 2015 measured the mood, self-esteem and stress levels of 74 people who were asked to sit in an upright or slumped posture.
The researchers found that those people who were instructed to sit upright reported feeling more aroused, in a better mood and had better self-esteem and less fear than those people who were instructed to sit in a slumped posture when faced with a stressful situation.
Similar research was conducted in 2018, looking at the impact of walking posture on mood, confidence and arousal. These researchers found that when asked to walk with an upright posture, people were more likely to report fewer feelings of negativity, less sleepiness and interestingly, less pain than when asked to walk with a slumped posture.
“We know that body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves,” says well-known social psychologist Amy Cuddy.
Her research into expansive posturing (or power posing) made some extraordinary findings. She found that when we stand in a powerful posture for as little as two minutes – think of Wonder Woman with her hands on her hips or a man celebrating winning a running race – there are marked changes in our testosterone and cortisol levels.
She found increased levels of testosterone and decreased levels of cortisol after just two minutes of power posing, signifying increased feelings of strength, assertiveness and confidence and fewer feelings of stress reactivity.
She believes this is the evidence behind the saying ‘fake it until you make it’ and can be applied to any stressful or challenging situation.
So, if you find yourself struggling to find the motivation to head outside for a walk over the next couple of weeks or you are feeling concerned about going out to do some grocery shopping, try holding a power pose at your front door before you go out – it just might give you that little bit of extra confidence or courage.
If you are slouched in your favourite comfy chair and feeling down or overwhelmed about your day or your week, try sitting up straight, lifting your chin slightly and widening your shoulders.
When you walk down your hallway or you head outside for a walk, see if you can walk with your eyes lifted and your shoulders back. Take a moment to notice whether your upright posture helps to boost your mood, your confidence and your energy – you might be surprised by how quickly changing your posture can help to change your mood!
And always remember that if your feelings become overwhelming, you can reach out to organisations such as Lifeline or Beyond Blue.
YourLifeChoices and the Sydney University research team want to help older Australians manage musculoskeletal pain, stay active, thrive – and beat back pain.
We’re partnering with researchers from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre Musculoskeletal Research Hub on ‘the buddy trial’ – a program that aims to not only get you moving, but also to enhance the physical and mental benefits of exercise.
Kate Roberts is an experienced physiotherapist and PhD candidate at the University of Sydney. She has a passion for helping older Australians to manage their aches and pains and is particularly interested in helping people stay active and strong. When not working, she is kept busy with her three children and two dogs and a secret dedication to pointing her toes and leaping in her regular ballet class.
Note your posture right now? What’s it like? How do you feel? How much do you note posture in your dealings with people? Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below?
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