Try this one-second move the next time you need to find your calm or pump up your confidence.
The next time you find yourself wishing you could crawl back under the covers and hit rewind on the day, try double-checking your posture.
Sitting up straight can actually help you deal with stress better, according to research in Health Psychology. Plus, it’s way more convenient than lighting a scented candle in the middle of traffic or starting a meditation in the middle of a heated family dinner.
“Your posture can affect your physiology, including your blood pressure and heart rate, and alter how alert you feel,” says Elizabeth Broadbent, Ph.D., who led a study to find out if different postures have an effect on mood.
In the study, participants went through a nerve-racking public speaking test. Half of the group sat slumped, with their heads bowed, shoulders rounded, and back stooped. The other half maintained an upright posture with a straight back and shoulders.
After the test, those who sat with straight posture reported feeling more enthusiastic, excited, and strong. The slumped group felt more fearful, nervous, and sluggish.
Basically, remaining upright helped people maintain a positive mood, and guarded against negative feelings from creeping in.
Why It’s Important to Stay Ahead of Stress
Acute stressors—say, giving a toast at your daughter’s wedding or driving on a busy, unfamiliar highway—aren’t just uncomfortable. If you aren’t dealing with stressors properly, they can set the stage for chronic stress built up over time.
This can exhaust your body’s resources, making you more vulnerable to illness, Broadbent says.
Learning how to fight off fleeting causes of stress can only benefit you in the long run. Your best bet? Play the preventive game with your posture when you know you have something coming up that’s going to get your heart racing.
“If you are facing an acute stressor, like giving a speech, then it is helpful to have an upright posture before and during the task,” Broadbent advises.
What Good Posture Looks Like
Correct posture doesn’t exactly mean a stiff-straight spine. In fact, your spine has natural curves at your neck, middle of back, and lower back that you want to maintain.
Good posture for most means your head is above your shoulders, rather than jutting forward, and the tops of your shoulders are in line with your hips. A quick check in the mirror can help you understand and fix your posture.
If you have a condition that affects your spine, ask your doctor what good posture look like for you. The same is true if you use a cane or wheelchair. Proper positioning can help you stay safe and ease stress on your joints.
Once you know what proper alignment looks and feels like for you, practice good posture when sitting, standing, or walking.
One quick way to check your form is to pull your shoulders back and down—the opposite of a shrug. Another easy cue to remember: Pretend there’s a string attached to your chest that’s pulling it toward the ceiling.
Want more ways to protect your posture? Add pulling exercises to your workout.
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