We hear many people say that “the mind and body are connected.” We often feel this in ways that are hard to describe but noticeable when we see it. There are some situations in which this link is incredibly apparent, such as the way that many of us feel “depressed” when we are sick with the flu, or the way we feel generally unwell when we feel sad or nervous.
But we’re still discovering ways that our bodies and minds are linked – often ways that we still do not fully understand, but can prove nonetheless. One such example is the way that over-developed and under-developed muscles, especially in the core and posterior chain, can lead to developing some fairly significant anxiety symptoms.
How Could Muscle Development Affect Anxiety?
We spend a lot of our time leaning forward. We slouch when we sit and watch TV. We slouch forward in the car. We slouch forward when working on our computers. Now, with smartphones, we even slouch forward when we walk and stand. We also do all of this while we exercise less and – even those that do go to the gym – tend to focus on the most visible muscles, such as the chest, the abs, and the biceps.
What’s happening to many of us is that some of our muscles are tightening and overdeveloping – often in the front of our bodies. On a physical level, this can cause all sorts of challenges, such as a hunchback and back pain as we age. If you feel like your lower back is often achy or your shoulders are frequently tense, that is an example of what these issues can cause.
Entire textbooks have been written about the ways that this affects our body – causing our muscles to not communicate properly, increasing stress on the nerves, and so on. But our focus here is on how these underdeveloped muscles can cause anxiety, and one of the many ways they do this is by causing dysfunctional breathing.
When your front muscles are tight and your back and core muscles – especially those on the back side of your body, like the glutes – are underdeveloped, it leads to poor posture and shorter, shallow, and less consistent breaths. These breathing pattern problems lead to a host of different issues, most notably, hyperventilation:
- We breathe in too much oxygen.
- We breathe carbon dioxide out too quickly before we have a chance to make more.
- We *feel* like we are not getting enough oxygen, leading to attempts to draw in more.
- We start to experience lightheadedness, rapid heartbeat, and other symptoms as our bodies need a certain carbon dioxide/oxygen balance to work efficiently.
If you’ve ever had a panic attack before, some of these symptoms will sound familiar. That is because hyperventilation is a key part of a large number of panic attack symptoms. Without the right oxygen balance, our bodies also become stressed.
What happens next?
When our bodies our stressed, we start to experience more anxiety and stress as well. Sometimes, this can lead to full-blown panic attacks. But even in those that are not prone to panic attacks, it can make us feel more stressed and anxious generally – even though we may not entirely understand why. When we’re faced with other types of stress and anxiety, they may also feel more severe, as our bodies are already starting from a more anxious baseline.
All of this because of posture and muscle strength.
Does This Mean a Gym Will Cure Anxiety?
We now know that our posture and our muscles are linked to issues like breathing and anxiety. But does this mean that all we need to do to reduce it is to go to the gym and work on our squats? Will strong glutes cure anxiety?
Typically, no. Once we have developed anxiety, poor breathing habits, and other mental health challenges, we often need professional support in order to learn to manage them effectively. Similarly, while we know that poor posture and poor muscle development can lead to anxiety and stress, we also know that anxiety and stress can lead to poor posture.
People with depression, for example, are far more likely to slouch their shoulders and hunch their back. This postural change ends up causing tighter muscles in the front of the body and weaker, stretched muscles in the back, leading to poor breathing habits. But in this situation, the depression came first. Exercising our muscles could theoretically help relieving some of the symptoms, but the depression would still be present.
Still, it’s important to recognize that our lives benefit from holistic healthier living. When we take care of our minds and our bodies, we are more likely to see an improvement in our quality of life.