Anxiety Recovery Course. Module 11: Defensive Postures and Negative Body Language.

By Brian Robinson.

You only need to adopt a defensive posture if you have something to fear

When we talk about posture in relation to anxiety we’re really talking about negative or defensive posturing. Examples of these are as follows:

  1. Sitting on the edge of your seat.
  2. Pacing up and down.
  3. Having your head bowed.
  4. Sitting with your body curved forward or curled up.
  5. Having your arms folded.
  6. Sitting with your arms and hands across your abdomen.
  7. Crouching down as if on starting blocks.

We tend to adopt these postures unconsciously and what they have in common is they all imply the presence of danger in one form or another. For example, we fold or arms over our abdomen to protect our vital organs. And we sit on the edge of our seat to facilitate a quick get-away. We have to be alert to this unwitting tendency because these postures reinforce the idea that danger is present. They also tend to be resistant postures and as such they do not help with tension levels.

The other problem with some of these positions, is that your vital organs, especially your lungs, will work better and more freely when your body is not hunched over or you don’t have the weight of your arms across your body. Remember, your nervous system is very tuned in to what is happening with your lungs: and your brain is very tuned in to all your behaviours.

If you find you have taken up a defensive posture, the idea is first to ‘break state’. That term means getting up, letting your arms hang loose, stretching your body and perhaps having a little walk around. The effect of this is to push a sort of reset button and then you can settle back into a more open posture. Sitting fairly upright, reclining back in your seat, putting your feet up, holding your arms by your side etc, are all examples of open postures.

In one sense, we are what we project

Negative body language can also be an issue. This might involve facial expressions like frowning, grimacing, or grinding your teeth. It can also be the way you walk; you might find yourself continually sighing or yawning; or your speech may become a bit monotone and less lyrical.

Body language has a purpose and basically we use it to let others know how we are feeling. However, our nervous systems can also pick up on our body language and we have to be careful it doesn’t get too negative. After all, we are trying to be upbeat, so we should try and let our bodies give out that positive message. That doesn’t mean we have to deny how we are feeling, or act as if we are happy when we are not. But essentially, we are trying to outwit our brain and reassure our nervous system.  

2 thoughts on “Anxiety Recovery Course. Module 11: Defensive Postures and Negative Body Language.

  1. I love this article as it’s something I’ve not mentioned in my posts about anxiety, panic attacks or stress. What I have said, and this ties in nicely with your post Brian is “Your body can’t be tense and relaxed at the same time.” So it makes sense that we ought to let our body relax physically i.e. by dropping our shoulders, unclenching our jaw etc. A relaxed posture tells the brain that you’re relaxed. In the same way, when you’re hunched up, arms cross, you’re telling your brain you’re tense, getting ready for action.


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