We all have days when we aren’t exactly feeling our best. Whether it’s work, relationship trouble or just life in general, our emotions can get the better of us. So where do you turn? A glass (or a bottle) of wine, ice-cream, the arms of a loved one maybe. But how many times do we actually turn to ourselves? Personally speaking, very seldom.
But did you know that we can find comfort in ourselves through our own bodies? Here’s how to instantly make yourself feel better through simple but effective physical gestures – in 30 seconds or less.
Stressed? Let’s get physical
Psychotherapist Noa Belling explains: “Our bodies have an innate ability to shift how we feel because our brain receives more information from our body senses than it does from our thoughts about what’s going on.” She gives posture as an example: “When you feel down, your posture tends to slump, and when you feel up, your posture tends to be more uplifted. Try feeling down with your posture upright or feeling uplifted with your posture slumped. You might find that difficult, or even impossible.” Okay, now we’re listening…
Why this works
The reason we find the above exercise difficult is because our body lets our brain know how we’re feeling. We’re actually wired to gather information about ourselves from our physical responses and to pick up information about others quickly and non-verbally through their gestures. “But what might not be as obvious is that your posture can also perpetuate, or cause you to feel, a certain way and that proactively changing your posture can change your mood and mind,” says Belling.
Science backs it up
Noa shares the science in her new book, The Mindful Body. According to psychology professor Richard Petty, “the brain has areas that reflect feelings such as confidence, and when the specific area is triggered it’s difficult to tell the difference between natural confidence and temporary confidence as a result of standing up straight. The brain responds in the same way to both. So your confidence can make you stand upright and standing upright can create confidence.”
Here are four ways to feel instantly better. The best part: you don’t even have to leave your chair.
Yeah, yeah, you might feel a bit silly forcing a smile, but it can legit make you feel better. Smiling, whether it’s fake or not, can instantly boost feel-good hormones to counteract stress. “It can even help you think more clearly because stress hormones can create a short circuit in your brain that limits or cuts off access to your most mature thinking, instead prioritising more primitive brain regions and the fight, flight, freeze or faint response,” says Noa.
Hand over heart
No, we aren’t about to sing the national anthem. Placing your hand over your heart – and holding it there for a few seconds – can make you feel better. This is because touch instantly raises oxytocin, the cuddle hormone, making us feel comforted. This position can also help us feel more self-compassionate and compassionate towards others. “So when you feel stressed, or like you’re about to lose your temper, try out a hand to your heart, perhaps allowing a deep breath to follow, and then notice how you respond to what’s in front of you,” says Noa.
Balance your posture
If you’re standing, place both your feet evenly on the ground; if sitting, adjust yourself to sit evenly over both hips. “Centering and balancing your posture in this way can not only help your body feel more balanced and comfortable, it can bring about a more balanced outlook and help you to think more clearly when you feel emotional or under pressure,” explains Noa. You don’t have to stay in the position forever – 30 seconds can be than enough for an instant perspective shift.
Feeling emotionally stuck or facing a challenging stressy situation? Loosen up. Stretching out areas of tension is a great way to “counteract the tendency to overthink that can sometimes lead you round in spirals of negativity,” says Noa. Also, open your senses in the moment – notice the sights, sounds and smells around you. “When you pay more attention to your environment, a new clarity can emerge.”
READ MORE ON: Health Health Advice Mental Health Stress
This article was first published in Women's Health SA.
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