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How changing your posture and movement can improve depression

person sitting sadly and depressed

Common treatments for depression and anxiety typically focus on your thoughts, but new research shows that changing your posture and movements may also improve depression symptoms.

A depressed person usually moves around differently from a healthy person. Slumped shoulders, slower gait, and the like. It all suggests that a link exists between depression and one's motor movement and posture.

In essence, it may not just be all about one's thought processes. Perhaps, if you could alter your movement patterns, you may be able to alleviate your depression. Moreover, emotions are influenced by motion.

To better understand the impact of movement and posture on depression, researchers conducted a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

The connection between motor changes and depression/anxiety

Several mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD, are associated with reduced or agitated motion. The former, known as psychomotor retardation, refers to the slowing of bodily activities and speech. And there's psychomotor agitation, which refers to excessive or agitated movements and speech patterns, such as hand-wriggling and rambling.

Depressed individuals especially show reduced steps, strides, and reaction time and more abnormal postures compared to people without depression.

People with anxiety and depression also tend to bend their heads forward more, with smaller movements of the shoulders, hips, elbows, wrists, and knees.

Are motor changes a risk factor or symptom of depression?

We've established that there's an abnormal posture and movement pattern in people with depression. But a question lingers. Are motor changes a risk factor for depression, a symptom, or merely a coping mechanism?

Does a person slump their shoulders because they feel depressed, or does it happen spontaneously and subconsciously whenever depression exists?

If it's merely a symptom, altering it may not particularly influence the cause itself (the depression).

Or does slumping your shoulders and walking slowly put you at risk of depression?

More research would be needed to answer that question explicitly. But this is what we know as of now. The results of this study show that manipulating those movement patterns can influence depressive patients' emotions.

A 2017 study also concluded that an upright posture could improve mood and energy in people with depression.

Changing posture and movement (i.e., from slumped shoulders to an upright posture or from slow to swift movements) could inspire motivation and energy in people with depression. Of course, lack of motivation and energy characterize depression, so countering that can be pretty helpful.


An upright posture could improve mood and energy in people with depression


The bottom line

We've almost always focused on thoughts when treating depression and anxiety, but these new findings offer a new approach to depression treatment.

Mental health providers may encourage their depressive patients to practice a more upright posture and swift upward movements instead of moving lethargically.

Have you noticed you slump your shoulders and move more slowly whenever you feel depressed? Paying attention to how you move, stand, and walk can help you counter your depressive symptoms and make you feel more energized.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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