Feeling stressed? While there are a lot of ways to manage anxiety, we’ve got a guest post today from Sukie Baxter that will help ease that stress in a way you might not have thought about before: by shifting your posture. Sukie is a posture and movement specialist and the author of Perfect Posture for Life, and she helps people change their lives by changing the way they move (you might remember this post she did for us here and here). Download her free guide to easing aches and pains here.
Four Posture Shifts that Quickly Relieve Stress and Anxiety By Sukie Baxter
When you think about treatments for anxiety, talk therapy probably comes to mind. Exercise, meditation, and yoga are also great for calming anxious thoughts.
But is there a connection between posture and anxiety?
Studies have shown that posture does affect the way you feel. A slumped, rounded posture can worsen feelings of depression and make it harder to focus while sitting up straight boosts energy and self esteem.
So when you’re feeling a bit frenzied, try these simple posture shifts that quickly relieve stress and anxiety.
1. Lift your chest to boost breathing. Pretty much every time I mention the word “posture,” I see people yank their shoulders back in an effort to fix their computer hunch.
However, pulling your shoulders back actually doesn’t work.
When you sit curled forward into a c-shape like the curve of a banana, tight muscles in your chest and abdomen pull your rib cage down, which in turn causes your shoulders to round forward.
This posture increases stress because it makes it harder to breathe. Shallow breathing is correlated with anxiety, so taking the pressure off your lungs can help you feel calmer.
Try this: Instead of holding your shoulders back, place one hand on your sternum, just beneath your collar bones. Lift your chest up and forward into your hand. Notice how your shoulders shift back automatically? It should require little effort to keep them there.
2. Put your feet on the floor to feel grounded. It’s said that anxiety is a symptom of living too far in the future and worrying about what might happen.
If that’s true, then a perfect antidote to worry and dread is to come back to the present. But how do you harness your runaway thoughts when they’re off chasing a future full of what-ifs?
One powerful way to come back to the present is to connect to sensory perception — what your body is feeling right here and now. Sensation can only happen in the moment, so putting your attention on it instantly brings you back to yourself.
Your feet are rich in sensory receptor cells that send all kinds of data to your brain, but most people have lost touch with this input. To reconnect to your feet, try the following: While sitting, put your feet flat on the floor. Lean forward a bit and pay attention to how the weight in your feet increases as your body shifts. Press your feet down and feel your spine stretch slightly in response.
3. Bring your knees together to engage your core. Core muscles help you sit up straighter, which in turn helps your body take up more space. Yogis have known for generations that expansive poses calm anxiety, and modern science backs up that claim.
But did you know that core engagement starts in your legs?
That’s right; it’s really hard to turn on your abs if your knees are flopped out to the sides and your feet are resting willy-nilly on the floor. So, now that you have your feet flat and supporting your spine, try the following: Place a yoga block or small ball between your knees and hold it firmly enough so that it doesn’t fall. Feel how your abs come online when your knees are drawing toward each other? This will help you keep your spine upright, decreasing the pressure on your breathing.
4. Pay attention to the space above your head to stand taller. As we age, there is a tendency to shrink slightly. Sure, spinal discs compress and eventually even bones break down somewhat, but most of us are losing quite a bit of height to slouching.
While standing up straight can boost energy and improve your mood, most people doing this are just hyper-extending their backs — basically going into a backbend.
We don’t want that. What we’re looking for is elongation.
So, try this instead: pay attention to the space above your head. You might be wrinkling your nose right now and saying, “Huh? What does that even mean?”
But here’s the thing…
Your body shapes itself to the space around it. Meaning: if you’re in a room with a very low ceiling, you’ll duck your head and hunch a little lower.
Well, many people walk around like there’s a ceiling two inches above them. To remind your body that you have heaps of space up there, place your hand on the top of your head. Stretch your head upward into your hand and notice how your neck and upper spine elongate.
These four posture shifts will help you stand up straighter and feel more centered. Of course, the more you pay attention to how you’re sitting and standing, the easier it will be to avoid getting knocked off center in the first place.
Which one will you try today? —Sukie Baxter