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Volume 11, Number 6

Stress management is a multifaceted endeavor. It includes nurturing physical and emotional wellness through a healthy lifestyle, a vitally important component of resilience. It also includes having a variety of approaches and strategies that can be flexibly applied, depending upon circumstances in one’s life. For example, in some cases assertive problem-solving is most appropriate, relaxation techniques are more useful in other circumstances, and combined approaches are best in some situations.

While an upright posture certainly isn’t a magical elixir for stress, results of a recent investigation suggest that it can be a meaningful component of a comprehensive approach to stress management. Investigators at the University of Auckland in New Zealand randomly assigned their research participants to either sit in a slumped posture or to sit in an upright position. The stressor in this 30-minute study was having the participants engage in a public speaking task. The task specifically asked them to imagine that they were applying for their dream job and had 5 minutes to tell an interview panel about why they were the best candidate for the job. Their “speech” had to be done without any written notes and was video-recorded.

Investigators measured participants’ emotional state (which included analysis of the content of the speeches), the extent to which participants perceived the situation as threatening, self-esteem, persistence with the task, and cardiovascular responses (blood pressure and heart rate). Compared to the upright posture group, the “slumped group” was found to have significantly more negative emotion, lower self-esteem, and less persistence with the speaking task. Cardiovascular changes occurred to a similar degree in both groups, a finding that did not corroborate the investigators’ hypothesis that greater cardiovascular changes would occur in the slumped group.

Other studies have found associations between posture and mood, confidence, and several physiological measures. What was noteworthy about this study was that it demonstrated that maintaining an upright posture in a condition of psychological stress had a protective effect on mood. Because mood can have a profound impact on perceptions, and the intensity of stress is markedly affected by perceptions of the stressor and one’s ability to respond to the stressor, maintaining a more positive mood state is an asset in stress management.

This study suggests that maintaining an upright posture when stressed is something to add to the stress management toolbox. Posture appears to be another building block for resilience.

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