Did you know that your body posture affects the ways you feel? This sounds like a very bold statement, but it’s true. And there is more to it. The posture and the body language you are used to are not accidental. You were programmed to have such a posture due to all the events that happened to you in life, especially early on in life.
How Do We Develop Habitual Body Posture?
It all starts early in life as you probably guessed. Basically, in order to survive in the best possible way, your body created the habits that helped you adjust to the environment. These habits are body posture or body language that we are used to. For instance, some of us learned that when we withdraw into ourselves and appear smaller, it helps avoid being a target of an angry person. This may have been relevant in your early life when you needed to avoid the wrath of a person that wants to dominate (perhaps your angry father). On the other hand, some of us learn that in order to survive, we need to appear threatening and puff our chest up in a stiff manner while walking around with our head up. There are many variations of body postures. Why do our body postures matter?
Body Posture Affects Our Life in Various Ways
Well, our body postures and body language affect almost every aspect of our lives. Health is one of the issues. Just think how much less lung capacity you have when you breathe if you are scrunched. This is just one example but I won’t get too into it. You can ask your doctor, chiropractor, etc. They will all tell you that good posture is better for our health.
Two things are the most interesting to me. One is how our body language and postures affect our relationships and how our body posture affects our mood. This has significant implications in life. Think about it. How many a year do we repeat the same things that haven’t worked for us?
How Habitual Body Posture May Affect Our Relationships
Think of how we communicate with each other. You tell your husband something, and he takes it completely in the wrong way. The reason for this is that communication isn’t only about the words spoken. It’s also about our body language and posture. Remember the statement, “It’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Most of this kind of communication happens on a subconscious level. In other words, we are not aware of how our body communicates with others. Our intent may be to say one thing, but our body language and tone may convey something totally different. You may come across as someone who is cocky, but the truth may be that you are freaking out inside. And this affects how other people feel about us when we try to communicate something.
For instance, try telling a little baby “You are so cute,” in a stiff firm voice looking at her from your standing position with your puffed up chest. The baby will most likely start crying because you came across as threatening. We usually know better than to talk to babies in this way. Besides, babies are not threatening, so we get a rush of bonding hormones that help us lower our guard and talk to babies in a slightly high pitch voice and positioning our body towards the baby to be on the same level as they are. We naturally appear friendlier towards babies. And, there is a big chance of getting rewarding, squeaky, laughter, cooing, and gurgling.
What about other relationships? They are more complicated because other people may feel more threatening to us than babies. Thus, we don’t naturally drop our guard down to assume more natural postures while communicating. Our sincerity, honesty, or compassion may not come across due to our habitual body postures that convey dominance for instance. This is further complicated by the fact that the other person in the conversation has their own habitual patterns of body posture and language that keep them from lowering their guard. This doesn’t allow them to be open to your communication without preconceived notions. You get the picture? It’s complicated, just like relationship statuses on Facebook. Our habitual body posture may lead to struggle in communication in various ways.
How Body Posture Affects Our Mood?
To remind you, we talked about how we develop habitual postures due to various things that occur in our early life. So, this habitual posture or set of them served us throughout our life when there was a threat present. Imagine walking all life in a certain way. If I told you to change it, it would be very difficult. All your musculature, bone structure, and nervous system are set up to support this posture.
Your Anxiety or Depression Helped You Adjust to the Toxic Environment
These postures and body language occurred because of different things you were going through. As I said, if your father or mother had anger issues, you may have learned that being less visible is the way to avoid their wrath. So, you may have wound up with scrunched shoulders, walking with your head down, avoiding eye contact, etc. Your body remembers this for life, and it tends to remain in this posture. So, in some ways, your anxiety caused by circumstances around you led to your body posture.
Your Body Remembers and Maintains Anxious or Depressed Ways
Is it possible, that your body posture perpetuates your anxiety? Research shows that this is exactly what happens. For instance, when you walk with your head down, you don’t have a clear vision of what’s going on around you. Thus, your body winds up in this heightened neural activity, which makes you feel more vigilant. What happens when you are constantly on alert? This leads to a more complicated conversation, but you can imagine that you may be more anxious. And, when your anxiety is high in a resting state, your nervous system may go into overdrive when you experience stress. You may wind up with panic attacks, compulsive anxious thoughts, worry, etc.
Even if you know what’s happening, and you feel that your anxiety is much larger than the reality of the stress level, very often you still can’t help it. That’s because your body keeps you at heighten anxiety levels. This is one of the reasons why it’s most helpful to find a therapist that utilizes somatic processing in their work when dealing with anxiety. Somatosensory Psychotherapy involves somatic, cognitive, and emotional processing integrated by mindfulness. This is a powerful combination that’s very effective in treating trauma and other anxiety disorders. Read more about this model here
What can you do for now? You can try experimenting with different body postures when in a safe situation, such as at home in front of the mirror. You can also practice yoga and other posture correcting physical activities. This will not necessarily treat trauma or anxiety, but it may bring some relief from negative side effects of poor body posture.
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