Boost Your Mood with These Three Body Habits: Power Postures, Hugs, and Smiling
Our emotional state is influenced not only by external events but also by internal physiological and hormonal changes in our body. Psychologists have identified three body habits that can improve our mood and induce positive emotions in us: power postures, hugs and interpersonal touch, and smiling. In this article, we will discuss these habits and the research that confirms their usefulness.
Our posture affects the hormonal composition of our blood, which in turn affects our mood. Different hormones have different effects on our mental state: cortisol is the stress hormone, and the more it is present in our blood, the more stressed we feel. Testosterone is the confidence hormone, and 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.
Taking a power posture decreases our stress and increases our confidence. Cuddy discusses the importance of power-postures and the way they affect our emotional state in this TED Talk.
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. As Korb puts it, “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.”
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, as demonstrated by a psychological experiment conducted in 1988.
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, which 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. This simple 1-minute exercise instantly improved people’s mood.
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.
Power postures, hugs and interpersonal touch, and smiling are simple but effective body habits that can improve our mood and induce positive emotions in us. By altering our hormonal composition and reducing our emotional reactivity, these habits can help us navigate through stressful situations and improve our well-being.