As discussed in other pages, our brain and our body are linked. Our thinking produces chemical changes in our body, and our body produces chemical changes in our brain, causing our feelings and influencing our thinking.
This is good news because it means that we can do things to influence the way that we feel. We can do this in two ways:
• Change the way we think or interpret the events that are around us (See Mood Management: The Importance of Thinking).
• Change our physical actions.
Changing our thinking, adopting a problem-solving approach to the challenges we face, and adopting the 5 A Day are critical, however, we can also use our body language to change the way that we feel and change our body hormones on a moment by moment basis.
While changing our body language to impact our moods will not make a significant difference to our mental health overall, it can give us a momentary ‘pick up’ when we are down or stressed. When we feel down or stressed, we tend to round our shoulders, look down, frown or furrow our brow. While this is a reaction to how we feel and certainly doesn’t cause our stress or low mood, however, it does strengthen our mood.
At the same time, when we feel positive, strong and energized, we tend to look up, put our shoulders back, smile and move quickly. Again, this change in our body positioning is a reaction to how we feel, not a cause, although again, this body position has an impact on our body chemistry, which impacts our feelings.
A controversial study by Amy Cuddy from Harvard in 2012 explored the impact of two different types of body positioning techniques on mood and neurochemistry. While the study was criticized on statistical grounds, further research suggests that there is some validity to the idea that our body position can impact the way that we feel. In short, she suggests that when we adopt a ‘high power pose’; a body position where our body language is open and relaxed and we look up and smile, there tends to be an increase in testosterone and decrease in cortisol. This means that we feel more confident, more energized, in control and less stressed. A ‘low power pose’ on the other hand, involve those positions where we make our body more closed and guarded. We tend to curl our shoulders, look down, and frown, and when we adopt this position, we tend to feel less assertive, have less energy, feel less in control, are less confident and more stressed.
Again, we are not suggesting that changing your body language is the key to transforming your mental health. However, it can be an extremely easy tool to use, which can have a positive impact on our moment by moment moods, which then means it is easier to take helpful action.