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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 May 15, 2019

How to Tap Into the Power of Positivity

How to Tap Into the Power of Positivity

As it appears, the human mind is not capable of not thinking, at least on the subconscious level. Our mind is always occupied by thoughts, whether we want to or not, and they influence our every action.

“Happiness cannot come from without, it comes from within.” – Helen Keller

When we are still children, our thoughts seem to be purely positive. Have you ever been around a 4-year old who doesn’t like a painting he or she drew? I haven’t. Instead, I see glee, exciting and pride in children’s eyes. But as the years go by, we clutter our mind with doubts, fears and self-deprecating thoughts.

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Just imagine then how much we limit ourselves in every aspect of our lives if we give negative thoughts too much power! We’ll never go after that job we’ve always wanted because our nay-saying thoughts make us doubt our abilities. We’ll never ask that person we like out on a date because we always think we’re not good enough.

We’ll never risk quitting our job in order to pursue the life and the work of our dreams because we can’t get over our mental barrier that insists we’re too weak, too unimportant and too dumb. We’ll never lose those pounds that risk our health because we believe we’re not capable of pushing our limits. We’ll never be able to fully see our inner potential because we simply don’t dare to question the voices in our head.

But enough is enough! It’s time to stop these limiting beliefs and come to a place of sanity, love and excitement about life, work and ourselves.

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So…how exactly are we to achieve that?

It’s not as hard as it may seem; you just have to practice, practice, practice. Here are a few ideas on how you can get started.

1. Learn to substitute every negative thought with a positive one.

Every time a negative thought crawls into your mind, replace it with a positive thought. It’s just like someone writes a phrase you don’t like on a blackboard and then you get up, erase it and write something much more to your liking.

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2. See the positive side of every situation, even when you are surrounded by pure negativity.

This one is a bit harder to put into practice, which does not mean it’s impossible.

You can find positivity in everything by mentally holding on to something positive, whether this be family, friends, your faith, nature, someone’s sparkling eyes or whatever other glimmer of beauty. If you seek it, you will find it.

3. At least once a day, take a moment and think of 5 things you are grateful for.

This will lighten your mood and give you some perspective of what is really important in life and how many blessings surround you already.

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4. Change the mental images you allow to enter your mind.

How you see yourself and your surroundings make a huge difference to your thinking. It is like watching a DVD that saddens and frustrates you, completely pulling you down. Eject that old DVD, throw it away and insert a new, better, more hopeful one instead.

So, instead of dwelling on dark, negative thoughts, consciously build and focus on positive, light and colorful images, thoughts and situations in your mind a few times a day.

If you are persistent and keep on working on yourself, your mind will automatically reject its negative thoughts and welcome the positive ones.

And remember: You are (or will become) what you think you are. This is reason enough to be proactive about whatever is going on in your head.

Featured photo credit: Kyaw Tun via unsplash.com

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