Have you ever felt anxious, stressed or low, only to notice that your posture is reflecting your mood? Our counsellor explains the relationship between posture and mental health. In this article, learn how you can use your body to increase your positivity and confidence.
Posture: an unspoken language
Experts estimate that around 70–90% of our communication is non-verbal. We express ourselves through the way we use, move and hold our bodies. Body language includes everything from hand gestures and eye movements to facial expressions and sitting postures.
We process this non-verbal language automatically. Visual cues give us hints about someone’s thoughts, feelings or motivations. These impressions are powerful and can be important in interpreting a social situation.
Catherine Graham, counsellor at OCHK in Hong Kong, explains the power of body language:
“Non-verbal communication is essential to social functioning. We send our own signals to tell other people how we fit into a social situation, and we read other people’s signals to get an impression of who they are and what they mean.
Body language and posture play an incredibly important role in counselling. People tell me so much about how they feel by the way they sit or move. This can give me valuable information about topics that might need more exploration.
And, beyond that, an awareness of my own body language helps me to build a rapport with my clients. Sitting with an open posture, good eye contact, and mirroring the person I’m with can really help develop trust.”
So, our thoughts and feelings are translated into our posture and body language – a process that’s so set into our system that it happens automatically. But can we learn to hack into this mind-body link and reverse the process?
The mind-body connection: how posture and mood interact
Picture someone in your mind: they’re positive, confident and strong. Now imagine they start to feel anxious or depressed. The chances are that you imagine the change in their posture, from upright and forward-facing to slumped and head down.
We’re very good at assessing how other people are feeling by the way they hold themselves. Our feelings show up in our bodies. But did you know thata change inposture can bring about a change in the way we think and feel?
The idea that the body can influence the mind is called ‘embodied cognition’. It suggests that our mental world is shaped, at least in part, by our physical experiences. Therefore, it’s possible that changing our physical selves will also alter our thoughts and feelings.
It’s an interesting idea, and it became very popular in 2012, following this TED talk by social scientist and researcher, Amy Cuddy, who suggested certain postures (or ‘power poses’) could alter the way someone thinks and feels about themselves – or, as Cuddy put it: “you can fake it till you make it”.
Cuddy’s research found that people who adopted ‘high-power poses’ for two minutes subsequently felt more assertive, more confident, and more able to take risks – research that has since been confirmed in over 50 other studies.
So, maybe it’s time to change up your posture to one that radiates positivity and confidence. Before long, your brain will believe it.
Fake it till you make it
Adopting a posture that mimics how you want to feel, then, can make that feeling a reality. It’s a small change that can have a big impact on your daily life. Doing something as simple as sitting up straight in your chair can boost your self-belief.
As one study puts it, “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.”
Catherineexplains how counselling clients benefit from this insight:
“Employing posture in a positive way is a useful technique for good mental health. When someone comes to me for counselling, giving them an insight into their body language can equip them with a powerful tool to help achieve better confidence and self-esteem.”
Here are Catherine’s tips for tweaking your posture and body language to get the most mental health benefits:
- When you’re feeling anxious or low, take a moment to become aware of your body. Think about your position, your facial expression and your breathing.
- Now, adjust your posture. Sit or stand tall. Pull up through the crown of your head to lengthen your spine. Let your shoulders relax and drop. Let your chin relax so that your head is neutral. If your arms or legs are crossed, uncross them.
- Think about your face. Relax your facial muscles, and let your brow drop. Soften your mouth andimagine that you’re about to smile – you’ll feel the change as your facial muscles engage.
- Take a breath in through your nose, all the way to the belly. Then, slowly let the breath out through your relaxed mouth.
- If you’re about to go into a stressful situation, such as a meeting or interview, take a couple of minutes beforehand to ‘stand strong’ –feet apart, face forwards, hands on hips. Adopting a ‘power pose’ such as this sends your brain the message that you’re capable and confident.
Counselling for anxiety and depression
Hacking your mental health using posture is a small but useful way to help manage those anxious feelings in your daily life. But if you need more significant intervention to cope with your anxiety, depression or other mental health issue, it’s best to seek professional advice. If you’d like Catherine to help you work through any issues, you can book with her here.