The other day, I was out walking my dog when a memory from long ago resurfaced. It was as if the universe was sending me an important reminder; like two hands being placed on my shoulders.
When I started grade school, I was one of the two tallest students in the lower grades, and thus I would constantly be slumping my shoulders to look more like everyone else. Occasionally, one of the nuns would take my shoulders in her hands and “help” me to pull them back and stand upright. At the time I wasn’t too happy about this (as if anyone would be), but to avoid the reminders to stand up straight, I quickly learned to reverse my habit of slumping, and started walking with my head and spine aligned, as if an imaginary string ran from the top of my head to the clouds in the sky. To my surprise, whenever I walked like this, I felt more confident, more graceful– and even more cheerful! Could it be?
The body of research on the influence of facial expressions on emotion dates back to Charles Darwin in 1872. In fact, a few studies have found that when facial frowning is controlled for, as with a Botox injection, depression may even be lessened.
But what about posture? Might there really have been something to what I noticed when I stood up straighter back in grammar school? A study out of the University of Auckland examined this very question. If muscles in the face can affect one’s emotions, what about our posture muscles? They measured the affective and cardiovascular responses of 74 participants who were randomly assigned to either a seated upright or seated slumped position and given a psychological stress task. The result was that participants who completed the task sitting upright reported better mood, higher self-esteem and less negative stress as compared to those who completed the same task while sitting slumped.
Reminding ourselves to “straighten up” when seated, standing, or walking is such a simple and natural way to possibly feel more upbeat, that I hope you will agree it’s worth a try for at least one entire day. Then see if it makes a difference in your mood.
Finally, no matter what your height or physical characteristics, I hope you will hold your head up high and always be proud to be exactly who you are!
Bonus Read: Need more holiday cheer? Check out my latest column for L’Idea Magazine
© Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D., LLC 2021
Darwin C. The expression of emotions in man and animals. London: Murray; 1872
Nair, S., Sagar, M., Sollers III, J., Consedine, N., & Broadbent, E. (2015). Do slumped an upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial. Health Psychology, v.34 (6) 632-641.
NB: All self-help articles on this website are for informational purposes only and are in no way a substitute for professional help when needed.