Change Your Body, Change Your Mind
Ever wish you could increase your confidence levels on demand? Or relieve a stressful feeling in a moment? Using your body differently can be an easy way to give yourself a quick boost in the feeling happier department. Fighters don’t walk into a cage wearing an expression of serenity, neither do world leaders deliver their speeches hunched over and looking small. And most of us have felt the feel-good benefit of a belly laugh, a little dance or even a good cry. So how can we use our bodies to influence our thoughts and feelings?
LOOKING UP Things are looking up, cheer up, bringing me down, feeling down – language can often provide us with a bunch of clues about ourselves, if we’re listening. Looking downwards is easily associated with depressing, draining emotions while looking upwards is often connected to happier, lighter feelings. In the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), eye movements are considered linked to thought patterns in the brain. Looking upwards usually relates to imaginative and creative ideas – rather than strong emotions – so if you’re feeling down in the dumps, you know where to look.
TAKE UP SPACE Amy Cuddy’s excellent TED talk explains how our posture can affect our mood. Adopting a stronger, larger posture can make someone feel more powerful – in minutes. For some, this is hands on hips, legs apart while for others it may be sitting up straight and relaxing the arms. You’ll appear more confident and capable to others, but more importantly you’ll be communicating to yourself that you’re in control and there’s nothing to stress about. Remove stress from the brain and you’re free to do your best thinking – especially handy in a job interview.
WALK THIS WAY Our feet are intricate, complex things with 26 bones, 19 muscles and thousands of nerve endings; they were never designed to be wrapped in leather or plastic all day. Going barefoot might not be for everyone but ‘rolling’ through the balls of your feet as you walk will put a natural spring in your step – making you feel good and reducing the risk of pulls and strains. Speed is important too. To generate a sense of purpose, try walking 25% faster; for a more relaxed feeling, try slowing the pace down by 25%. The key here is to make a conscious decision; rushing for the bus or shuffling along mindlessly isn’t going to cut it.
SHAKE IT OFF Too often we carry tension in different parts of our body: shoulders, solar plexus, stomach, even our face. Many people feel anxiety as a tightening in their chest. Football legend Paul Scholes often did a ‘silent scream’ when he ran onto the pitch – stretching and relaxing those face muscles. Even Taylor Swift has gotten in on the action. Shaking our stress off can be done with big or small movements. Let the shoulders drop and literally dust yourself down – all over or anywhere you feel tight. This works in two ways: it interrupts the brain’s autopilot function of always looking for the next threat and it draws your attention to any muscles that might be in need of a rest.
SMILES AND SMILES It may seem obvious but simply smiling, whether you feel happy or not, can have a profound effect on your day. Even holding a pencil between your teeth has been reported to boost mood and yield health benefits. Smiling can also help prevent the brain from absorbing negative feelings when in the presence of a perpetual complainer. You might want to consider Orphan Annie’s advice and decide that you’re ‘never fully dressed without a smile’.
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