Stress, Trauma and Your Posture

We’ve all been told at least once (but probably hundreds of times) to “stand up straight.” We know it’s important, but we may not know the many reasons why or the profound effect that posture can have on our entire body including our fascia. While it’s important to “stand up straight” as often as we can manage, correct posture isn’t always so simple. Your unconscious mind may have more influence over your posture than you ever realized. Researchers have found that stress, trauma and your mental health can impact your posture dramatically. You may have heard of the “mind-body connection.” It is a very real connection, and we can’t separate the two.

I’m currently putting together an on-demand course to help people with their posture. (Keep an eye on my newsletter for more information.) There are a lot of factors that affect our posture, and I would be remiss not to include how stress and trauma take their toll. Who among us hasn’t experienced some kind of trauma or mental health issue during our lifetime? And everyone deals with stress. In this blog I want to share some brief statistics on these issues and share an interview with Lisa Basile MA, LMHP a good friend and local mental health expert with 35 years of experience.

Childhood Trauma and Health as We Age

According to the CDC’s ACEs study (ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Events) around two-thirds of the 17,000 participants reported at least one adverse childhood event. One in five reported three or more. Essentially this means there are many people living in our country with a history that includes trauma.

The study investigated the connection between childhood abuse, neglect and household challenges, and their health and well-being as adults. When we experience trauma as children, we carry it into adulthood. Not only that, but habits we form as teenagers can carry on as well. An example of how this can affect posture is when people exhibit “defensive posture.” This might include hunched shoulders, lowering of the head and neck, or consistently folding the arms. People who experience trauma, especially as children, adopt this posture as a way to protect themselves. The posture may be conscious or unconscious, but definitely follows many people into adulthood even after the experience of trauma is no longer a real threat.

Preventing trauma or learning to cope in childhood can lead to healthier outcomes in adulthood. The good news is that we aren’t alone and it’s never too late to make a change. Healthier posture can start at any time!

Trauma as an Adult

Our trauma doesn’t have to take place in childhood to cause posture issues and health problems. Any trauma can deeply affect our physical, mental and emotional health. Even simply feeling sad can change our posture and make the challenge of standing up straight against gravity feel daunting. When the sadness lasts days, weeks or months the effect on our body is no longer just a posture problem. Now it has the potential to become an alignment problem.

When a Posture Problem Becomes and Alignment Problem

What is an alignment problem? This is when we’ve held a particular posture for so long that our fascia has literally remolded itself into the postures or shapes, we are choosing. (Remember a choice can be conscious or unconscious.) When this happens, returning to good posture is no longer just a matter of standing up straight. If we try to change our posture to good posture it can feel difficult or even unnatural. Perfecting your posture won’t happen overnight just like you wouldn’t sign up for a 5K without conditioning first. Small changes should be your first steps, like gentle stretching or myofascial release self-care. Staying hydrated and eating nutritious foods can also help you on the path or better posture and alignment.

Poor Posture is Hazardous to Your Health

Poor posture over time leads to tension from our fascia remolding itself into a less than ideal shape. This tension then places pressure on all our other body systems. We often feel pressure on our nervous system as pain. However, we can experience pressure in all our body systems with other adverse results. One example might be the respiratory system. Pressure on the respiratory system from fascia along with poor posture might lead to the inability to take a deep breath which can lead to other negative outcomes.

In my on-demand posture course I’ll go deeper into posture’s impact on health and the reverse. Watch the video below to hear Lisa’s valuable insights on the connection between mental health and posture and to learn what steps you can take to improving your own.


You can find links to several articles and the surveys used in the study here. ACEs Study

Resources from Lisa to learn more about the mind body connection:

  • Pat Ogden, Minten Kekuni, & Claire Pain. (2006). Trauma and the body: a sensorimotor approach to psychotherapy. W.W. Norton & Company.
  • Maria Gomez Silva, S. (2014). Engaging touch and movement in somatic experiencing, trauma resolution approach.
  • Gleason, B., Loustaunau, L. (2015). Sage Encyclopedia of Theory and Counseling, Core Energetics entry. Good Therapy (2017, July 21) Somatic Psychotherapy.
  • Levine, P.A. (1997) Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. North Atlantic Books.
  • Bessel Van der Kolk. (2014). The body keeps the score. Penguin Books.

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