runner

Overcome Anxiety with Posture

It makes you feel safe and frees up brain power.

Every athlete knows that education is a crucial part of performance. Sport and exercise research, insight from top trainers, science, and technology help you to better understand your body so you can craft a healthier lifestyle, workouts, and recovery plan.

In our daily news series, experts address some of the latest fitness research, nutrition, style, and health stories.


THE SCIENCE
People with performance anxiety perform better when they sit up straight compared to when they slouch, according to a new study published in the journal NeuroRegulation. While the researchers tested the theory by giving participants a math test, they say good posture can alleviate almost any kind of anxiety, including things like pre-race nerves.

EXPERT INSIGHT
When people feel threatened, their muscles tighten, their shoulders lift toward the ears, and they hold their breath, says study co-author Richard Harvey, Ph.D., associate professor of holistic health and health education at San Francisco State University. Slouching mimics this defensive position. It tells your brain and nervous system that there’s a threat and that they should focus their energy on protection.

But sitting up straight signals safety so your brain can turn its attention to the task at hand, Harvey explains. Good posture also slows your breathing and releases GABA neurotransmitters, which counteract anxiety.


THE BOTTOM LINE
Stand tall or sit up straight before and during anxiety-inducing events like a work presentation or a race, he says. You should also try to perfect the art throughout the day to optimize on-the-spot performance.

Harvey suggests setting a timer for 90 minutes, the amount of time your brain can focus before it needs a break. When it goes off, sit upright with a slight arch in your back, maintain that pose for as long as you can remember to, and reset again at the end of the next 90-minute interval.


Photo: Axel Brunst/tandemstock.com