She said son, be a proud man and hold your head up high. Walk tall, walk straight and look the world right in the eye. The lyrics in the song Walk Tall suggest a link between how we feel and our posture. You may have even been told to “sit up straight and you will feel better”. Is this really the case? Can it help? In this blog, we will discuss whether upright posture may improve mood for people with depression.
Depression is a mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It can lead to feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and fatigue, making it challenging to perform daily activities. While there are various treatments for depression, including medication and therapy, research suggests that upright posture may also play a positive role.
Upright posture refers to the position of the body where the spine is straight, and the head and shoulders are aligned and not contracted. Slumped posture can consist of a bowed head, rounded shoulders, and the upper body bent forwards. Research suggests that an expansive body posture helps produce feelings of power (Gronau et al., 2017). In contrast, people with clinical depression or dysphoria seem to display specific gait patterns, such as a slumped posture, walking slower, reduced arm movement, and more swaying in the upper body (Michalak et al., 2009).
Postural changes and mood
In 2015, Nair and colleagues studied seated healthy participants that held either an upright or slumped posture. The upright group reported feeling stronger and more enthusiastic, whilst participants who slumped reported feeling sluggish, passive, and fearful. Upright participants also reported better self-esteem and mood, and higher pulse pressure when going through the Trier Social Stress Test. Additionally, slumped participants (when going through the speech task) used less words overall, more negative emotion words, and first-person singular pronouns. Similar findings were mostly replicated for mild-to-moderately depressed participants (Wilkes et al., 2017), and healthy and walking participants (Hackford et al., 2019).
How does posture impact mood?
Aside from directly increasing brain activities (Tsai et al., 2016), and altering physiological states (Hackford et al., 2019), cognitive processes like perception and attribution are important to consider. Earlier studies of posture have shown impacts of posture on memory bias, alertness, confidence in thinking, and persistence in problem-solving (Riskind & Gotay, 1982). The finding that participants with improved posture spoke more words with fewer singular first-person pronouns, might suggest that posture influences self-focused attention. It’s probably also not surprising that people can make inferences about their mood from observing their posture, which can be influenced by language and situations (Oosterwijk et al., 2009).
These findings are also consistent with the idea of embodied cognition, which proposes that body, affect, and cognitive states are interrelated. Therefore, “changes to any of bodily, affective, cognitive, environmental, or intersubjective states may elicit responses from the person as a whole” said Jessie Hackford, author of the 2019 walking posture study.
There is preliminary research evidence suggesting benefits to adopt an upright posture. Whether sitting, standing, or walking, using an upright posture may improve depressive symptomatology. Such as, increasing positive affect, reducing fatigue, decreasing self-focus, and increasing confidence. Upright postures may also boost resilience through maintaining positive mood and self-esteem in the face of stressors – a major risk factor for developing depression and persisting with problem solving – something difficult to do when people experience helplessness. Whilst postural changes is not a standalone treatment for depression, it may be considered a supplementary behavioural strategy to be used in conjunction with therapy or medication.
Upright posture can be part of the picture to recover from a depressed mood. Therapy is another part of that picture. At the Centre for Clinical Psychology we provide a range of mental health services for individuals who have depression or mood difficulties. Our team is skilled in therapy for depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
If you or someone you know is in need of support, please consider reaching out to our clinic. We can be reached by phone at 03 9077 0122 or you can book an appointment online at https://ccp.net.au/booking/.
Gronau, Q. F., Van Erp, S., Heck, D. W., Cesario, J., Jonas, K. J., & Wagenmakers, E. J. (2017). A Bayesian model-averaged meta-analysis of the power pose effect with informed and default priors: The case of felt power. Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology, 2, 123–138. doi.org/10.1080/23743603.2017.1326760
Hackford, J., Mackey, A., & Broadbent, E., (2019). The effects of walking posture on affective and physiological states during stress. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 62, 80–87. Doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2018.09.004.
Nair, S., Sagar, M., Sollers, J., III, Consedine, N., & Broadbent, E. (2015). Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial. Health Psychology, 34, 632–641. doi.org/10.1037/hea0000146.
Oosterwijk, S., Rotteveel, M., Fischer, A. H., & Hess, U. (2009). Embodied emotion concepts: How generating words about pride and disappointment influences posture. European Journal of Social Psychology, 39, 457– 466. doi:10.1002/ejsp.584.
Riskind, J. H., & Gotay, C. C. (1982). Physical posture: Could it have regulatory or feedback effects on motivation and emotion? Motivation and Emotion, 6, 273–298. doi.org/10.1007/BF00992249.
Tsai, H. Y., Peper, E., & Lin, I. M. (2016). EEG patterns under positive/negative body postures and emotion recall tasks. NeuroRegulation, 3, 23–27. doi.org/10.15540/nr.3.1.23.
Wilkes, C., Kydd, R., Sagar, M., & Broadbent, E. (2017). Upright posture improves affect and fatigue in people with depressive symptoms. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 54, 143–149. doi.org/10.1016/j.jbtep.2016.07.015.