Is your posture stressing you out?

5 months ago by Christina Edwards

On first thoughts, you may think the answer is “no”. But unfortunately certain postures can set off the stress centres in your brain that fire up the adrenals which can tire out over time. When your adrenals prioritise the creation of stress hormones, they are unable to focus on producing the hormones that deal with inflammation, maintain reproductive health or keep blood pressure in check. Over time this can lead to chronic illness.

Understanding Stress:

Stress is a response your body initiates in an attempt to maintain balance (homeostasis). We typically recognise stress as mental and emotional pressure, however chemical and physical encounters can also set off the same reaction.

In a frightening situation, your body’s sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands to mount an acute stress response (also known as fight-or-flight).  

Physical indicators that fight-or-flight has kicked in include:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased heart rate and breathing
  • Pale or flushed skin
  • Shoulders round forward, ready to fight
  • Head drops forward, ready to run
  • Muscles in the buttock and backs of legs tighten, ready to run

Some of the body’s not-so-obvious response to stress:

  • The digestive system is suppressed
  • The immune system is suppressed
  • The reproductive system is suppressed
  • Blood pressure increases
  • Blood sugar increases
  • Blood clotting increases
  • Achilles tendons tighten up

So, if that dog growls at you and you are startled, you may feel adrenaline course through your body and your heart rate pick up as you get ready to run. This sort of stress is a natural response that helps us survive but it is only meant to hang around for a short while.

When our fight or flight mode remains engaged for long periods of time, the not-so-obvious elements of that state becomes an issue which ultimately impacts our global health. Could it be a continuous stress response that is causing your food intolerance or tummy troubles; the frequent headaches and tight muscles; period or infertility problems… the list is endless.

Poor Posture and Chronic Stress

When looking at yourself from the side, ideally there should be a straight line through your ear, shoulder, hip and ankle. If your head juts forward and your shoulders are rounded, this is a sign that your body is not achieving homeostasis. This posture not only leads to musculoskeletal complaints such as low back pain, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and Achilles tendonitis; it also mirrors a fight-or-flight posture. This triggers the body to react as though in danger, triggering the stress response cascade and keeping it locked on!

Modern life gives us lots of opportunities to develop a fight-or-flight posture:

  • Work: We look down at our laptops or sit at workstations where our eyes are not level with our screens, causing our head and shoulders to drop forward
  • Children: Parenting can be a stressful job! If you have young children, you may find yourself looking down to talk to them all day. Tantrums, loud noises, blaring music or TV (depending on the age of your children) may have your flight-or-fight posture kicking in constantly.
  • Technology: In the West, we now spend, on average, 5+ hours per day on screens (with teens spending up to 9 hours per day). Much of that time is spent looking down at phones or devices, causing the head and shoulders to drop forward. The blue light from the screens also stimulates our stress response.
  • Driving: A good posture is the last thing on our mind when we are in the car. It’s not uncommon for our shoulders to roll forward while we are driving, particularly if we find the traffic stressful.

Posture Correction

Correcting your posture is essential to ensuring the disruption in the feedback loop that tells our brain we are stressed. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Raise your Gaze! When using screens, make sure they are eye level to prevent the postural hunch that comes with looking at a device or laptop. Set your desk up ergonomically so you are looking straight at your monitor and not down at it.
  2. Don’t forget your posture when walking or sitting: Imagine you have helium balloons attached to the top of your head and chest bone. Adopting this posture will not only make you look taller (bonus!), it also allows for greater oxygenation and nerve flow.
  3. Use a foam roller: Laying vertically on a foam roller for 15 mins a day opens up your chest cavity that often sends messages to the brain that you are tense. You could also do some meditation while you are there to further aid relaxation.
  4. Get adjusted! Chiropractic care helps correct negative posture, increase joint movement and restore neurological function. Think of chiropractic adjustments as balancing the EQ levels on a sound system. It eliminates distortion returning the system to optimal function with clear signals.

Dr Christina Edwards MChiro

Chiropractors are trained to diagnose, treat, manage and prevent disorders of the musculoskeletal system (bones, joints, and muscles), as well as the effects these disorders can have on the nervous system and general health.