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Three body habits suggested by psychologists to improve your mood

Three body habits suggested by psychologists to improve your mood

A slight change to the state of our body can have an immense effect on our emotional state. Just like an external event, like good or bad news, can instantly change our mood, internal physiological and hormonal changes in our body also have the power to transform our emotions. Psychologists identified a number of body habits that can improve our mood and induce positive emotions in us. Three of these habits are discussed here along with the research that has tested and confirmed their usefulness.

1. Power Postures

Our posture alters the hormonal composition of our blood, and by doing so it affects our mood. Different hormones have different effects on our mental state: Cortisol is the stress hormone; the more it is present in our blood, the more stressed we feel. Testosterone is the confidence hormone; the more active it is, the more confident we feel.

Harvard Psychologist Amy Cuddy found that we can alter our levels of cortisol and testosterone through posture exercises. Cuddy defined high-power postures as postures that are open, relaxed, and that occupy space. She defined low-power postures as postures that are closed, tense, and restrict the body to a small space.

In one of her most known experiments, Cuddy asked one group of participants to take a high-power posture for two minutes and another group to take a low-power posture for the same length of time. The high-power posture group had an increased amount of testosterone and a decreased amount of cortisol in their body. The opposite effect occurred for the low-power posture group. In other experiments, Cuddy found that taking a power posture before an interview significantly increases our confidence level during the interview and our chances of getting hired.

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Taking a power posture decreases our stress and increases our confidence. In the video below, Cuddy elaborates more on this topic and discusses the importance of power-postures and the way they affect our emotional state.

2. Hugs and Interpersonal Touch

Oxytocin, or the ‘cuddle hormone,’ is another hormone that affects our emotional state. When the level of oxytocin increases in our body, we feel more relaxed and soothed. According to psychologist Alex Korb, oxytocin generates a soothing feeling by reducing our emotional reactivity to negative and threatening elements in our environment. Korb argues that interpersonal touch is one of the most powerful ways of increasing oxytocin in the body: hugs, handshakes, gentle taps on the shoulder, and orgasms are all practices that increase the level of oxytocin in our body. Besides interpersonal touch, contact with warm and soft objects also has a soothing and relaxing effect:

“Feeling warm can boost oxytocin – or at least mimic its effects. So if you don’t get a hug, try wrapping yourself in a blanket and holding a mug of hot tea. Taking a warm shower can also help” (Alex Korb, Upward Spiral: The neuroscience of depression).

3. Smiling

Our facial muscles have an effect on our emotions that is as significant as the effect of our hormones. A change in our facial muscles induces a change in our emotional state, this is what a psychological experiment conducted in 1988 demonstrated.

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In this experiment, Fritz Strack and his colleagues asked one group of participants to watch cartoons while holding a pencil between their teeth. By holding the pencil between their teeth, participants were activating the muscles used when smiling and were thus producing a smile. Another group was asked to watch the same cartoons while putting a pencil between their lips, this activated the muscles used in frowning.

When participants from both groups were asked to rate how funny the cartoons were, participants from the smiling group gave significantly higher ratings: watching cartoons while smiling made them seem funnier, watching cartoons while frowning made them seem less funny. Smiling changes the way a situation is experienced.

A BBC reporter wanted to test the effect of smiling on emotions, he took a walk in the city of Edinburgh on a gloomy day and asked people to put a pencil between their teeth and activate the muscles used for smiling. Check the video below to see how this simple 1 minute exercise instantly improved people’s mood.

Smiling can change the way a difficult situation is experienced, a power posture can increase confidence during moments of anxiety, and hugs can produce a warm feeling of tranquility when we are overwhelmed by stressors.

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As Amy Cuddy stated: “Our bodies change our minds.”

When our brain gets stuck in a spiral of negative thoughts, sometimes it is wise not to engage with these thoughts and instead focus on the body and, through changes to the body, induce changes in our mood.

Recommended Readings

Cuddy, A. (2015). Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. Hachette UK.

Korb, A. (2015). The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time. New Harbinger Publications.

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Strack, F., Martin, L. L., & Stepper, S. (1988). Inhibiting and facilitating conditions of the human smile: a nonobtrusive test of the facial feedback hypothesis. Journal of personality and social psychology54(5), 768.

Featured photo credit: Victor Hanacek – pic jumbo via picjumbo.com

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Louai Rahal

Science Blogger

Three body habits suggested by psychologists to improve your mood

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

Learning how to get in shape and set goals is important if you’re looking to live a healthier lifestyle and get closer to your goal weight. While this does require changes to your daily routine, you’ll find that you are able to look and feel better in only two weeks.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to get in shape. Although anyone can cover the basics (eat right and exercise), there are some things that I could only learn through trial and error. Let’s cover some of the most important points for how to get in shape in two weeks.

1. Exercise Daily

It is far easier to make exercise a habit if it is a daily one. If you aren’t exercising at all, I recommend starting by exercising a half hour every day. When you only exercise a couple times per week, it is much easier to turn one day off into three days off, a week off, or a month off.

If you are already used to exercising, switching to three or four times a week to fit your schedule may be preferable, but it is a lot harder to maintain a workout program you don’t do every day.

Be careful to not repeat the same exercise routine each day. If you do an intense ab workout one day, try switching it up to general cardio the next. You can also squeeze in a day of light walking to break up the intensity.

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If you’re a morning person, check out these morning exercises that will start your day off right.

2. Duration Doesn’t Substitute for Intensity

Once you get into the habit of regular exercise, where do you go if you still aren’t reaching your goals? Most people will solve the problem by exercising for longer periods of time, turning forty-minute workouts into two hour stretches. Not only does this drain your time, but it doesn’t work particularly well.

One study shows that “exercising for a whole hour instead of a half does not provide any additional loss in either body weight or fat”[1].

This is great news for both your schedule and your levels of motivation. You’ll likely find it much easier to exercise for 30 minutes a day instead of an hour. In those 30 minutes, do your best to up the intensity to your appropriate edge to get the most out of the time.

3. Acknowledge Your Limits

Many people get frustrated when they plateau in their weight loss or muscle gaining goals as they’re learning how to get in shape. Everyone has an equilibrium and genetic set point where their body wants to remain. This doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve your fitness goals, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you are struggling to lose weight or put on muscle.

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Acknowledging a set point doesn’t mean giving up, but it does mean realizing the obstacles you face.

Expect to hit a plateau in your own fitness results[2]. When you expect a plateau, you can manage around it so you can continue your progress at a more realistic rate. When expectations meet reality, you can avoid dietary crashes.

4. Eat Healthy, Not Just Food That Looks Healthy

Know what you eat. Don’t fuss over minutia like whether you’re getting enough Omega 3’s or tryptophan, but be aware of the big things. Look at the foods you eat regularly and figure out whether they are healthy or not. Don’t get fooled by the deceptively healthy snacks just pretending to be good for you.

The basic nutritional advice includes:

  • Eat unprocessed foods
  • Eat more veggies
  • Use meat as a side dish, not a main course
  • Eat whole grains, not refined grains[3]

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Eat whole grains when you want to learn how to get in shape.

    5. Watch Out for Travel

    Don’t let a four-day holiday interfere with your attempts when you’re learning how to get in shape. I don’t mean that you need to follow your diet and exercise plan without any excursion, but when you are in the first few weeks, still forming habits, be careful that a week long break doesn’t terminate your progress.

    This is also true of schedule changes that leave you suddenly busy or make it difficult to exercise. Have a backup plan so you can be consistent, at least for the first month when you are forming habits.

    If travel is on your schedule and can’t be avoided, make an exercise plan before you go[4], and make sure to pack exercise clothes and an exercise mat as motivation to keep you on track.

    6. Start Slow

    Ever start an exercise plan by running ten miles and then puking your guts out? Maybe you aren’t that extreme, but burnout is common early on when learning how to get in shape. You have a lifetime to be healthy, so don’t try to go from couch potato to athletic superstar in a week.

    If you are starting a running regime, for example, run less than you can to start. Starting strength training? Work with less weight than you could theoretically lift. Increasing intensity and pushing yourself can come later when your body becomes comfortable with regular exercise.

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    7. Be Careful When Choosing a Workout Partner

    Should you have a workout partner? That depends. Workout partners can help you stay motivated and make exercising more fun. But they can also stop you from reaching your goals.

    My suggestion would be to have a workout partner, but when you start to plateau (either in physical ability, weight loss/gain, or overall health) and you haven’t reached your goals, consider mixing things up a bit.

    If you plateau, you may need to make changes to continue improving. In this case it’s important to talk to your workout partner about the changes you want to make, and if they don’t seem motivated to continue, offer a thirty day break where you both try different activities.

    I notice that guys working out together tend to match strength after a brief adjustment phase. Even if both are trying to improve, something seems to stall improvement once they reach a certain point. I found that I was able to lift as much as 30-50% more after taking a short break from my regular workout partner.

    Final Thoughts

    Learning how to get in shape in as little as two weeks sounds daunting, but if you’re motivated and have the time and energy to devote to it, it’s certainly possible.

    Find an exercise routine that works for you, eat healthy, drink lots of water, and watch as the transformation begins.

    More Tips on Getting in Shape

    Featured photo credit: Alexander Redl via unsplash.com

    Reference

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