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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

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

We all have them—those hurtful, frustrating, offensive, manipulative people in our lives. No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with positive and kind people, there will always be those who will disrespect, insult, berate, and misuse you if we allow them to.

We may, for a variety of reasons, not be able to avoid them, but we can determine how we interact with them and how we allow them to interact with us.

So, how to take control of your life and stop being pushed around?

Learning to set clear firm boundaries with the people in our lives at work and in our personal lives is the best way to protect ourselves from the negative effects of this kind of behavior.

What Boundaries Are (And What They’re Not)

Boundaries are limits

—they are not threats or ultimatums. Boundaries inform or teach. They are not a form of punishment.

Boundaries are firm lines—determined by you—which cannot be crossed by those around you. They are guidelines for how you will allow others to treat you and what kind of behaviors you will expect.

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Healthy personal boundaries help protect you from physical or emotional pain. You may also need to set firm boundaries at work to ensure you and your time are not disrespected. Don’t allow others to take advantage of your kindness and generosity.

Clear boundaries communicate to others that you demand respect and consideration—that you are willing to stand up for yourself and that you will not be a doormat for anyone. They are a “no trespassing” sign that makes it very clear when a line has been crossed and that there will be consequences for doing so.

Boundaries are not set with the intention of changing other people. They may change how people interact with you, but they are more about enforcing your needs than attempting to change the general behavior and attitude of others.

How to Establish Boundaries and Take Control of Your Life

Here are some ways that you can establish boundaries and take control of your life.

1. Self-Awareness Comes First

Before you can establish boundaries with others, you first need to understand what your needs are.

You are entitled to respect. You have the right to protect yourself from inappropriate or offensive behavior. Setting boundaries is a way of honoring your needs.

To set appropriate boundaries, you need to be clear about what healthy behaviors look like—what healthy relationships look like.

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You first have to become more aware of your feelings and honest with yourself about your expectations and what you feel is appropriate behavior:

  • Where do you need to establish better boundaries?
  • When do you feel disrespected?
  • When do you feel violated, frustrated, or angered by the behavior of others?
  • In what situations do you feel you are being mistreated or taken advantage of?
  • When do you want to be alone?
  • How much space do you need?

You need to honor your own needs and boundaries before you can expect others to honor them. This allows you to take control of your life.

2. Clear Communication Is Essential

Inform others clearly and directly what your expectations are. It is essential to have clear communication if you want others to respect your boundaries. Explain in an honest and respectful tone what you find offensive or unacceptable.

Many people simply aren’t aware that they are behaving inappropriately. They may never have been taught proper manners or consideration for others.

3. Be Specific but Don’t Blame

Taking a blaming or punishing attitude automatically puts people on the defensive. People will not listen when they feel attacked. It’s part of human nature.

That said, you do not need to overexplain or defend yourself. Boundaries are not open to compromise.

Sample language:

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  • “You may not…yell or raise your voice to me…”
  • “I need…to be treated with respect…”
  • “It’s not okay when…you take things from my desk without asking…”
  • “I won’t…do your work…cover for you anymore…”
  • “It’s not acceptable when…you ridicule or insult me…”
  • “I am uncomfortable when…you use offensive language”
  • “I will no longer be able to…lend you money…”

Being able to communicate these without sounding accusatory is essential if you want others to respect your boundaries so you can take control of your life.

4. Consequences Are Often Necessary

Determine what the appropriate consequences will be when boundaries are crossed. If it’s appropriate, be clear about those consequences upfront when communicating those boundaries to others.

Follow through. People won’t respect your boundaries if you don’t enforce them.

Standing our ground and forcing consequences doesn’t come easily to us. We want to be nice. We want people to like us, but we shouldn’t have to trade our self-respect to gain friends or to achieve success.

We may be tempted to let minor disrespect slide to avoid conflict, but as the familiar saying goes, “if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

It’s much easier to address offensive or inappropriate behavior now than to wait until that behavior has gotten completely out of hand.

It’s also important to remember that positive reinforcement is even more powerful than negative consequences. When people do alter the way they treat you, acknowledge it. Let people know that you notice and appreciate their efforts.

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Final Thoughts

Respect is always a valid reason for setting a boundary. Don’t defend yourself or your needs. Boundaries are often necessary to protect your time, your space, and your feelings. And these are essential if you want to take control of your life.

Start with the easiest boundaries first. Setting boundaries is a skill that needs to be practiced. Enlist support from others if necessary. Inform people immediately when they have crossed the line.

Don’t wait. Communicate politely and directly. Be clear about the consequences and follow them through.

The better you become at setting your own boundaries, the better you become at recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others.

Remember that establishing boundaries is your right. You are entitled to respect. You can’t control how other people behave, but you do have control over the way you allow people to treat you.

Learning to set boundaries is not always easy, but with time, it will become more comfortable. You may eventually find that boundaries become automatic and you no longer need to consciously set them.

They will simply become a natural extension of your self-respect.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Kelley via unsplash.com

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