Stop schlumping! Stand up straight! Your mom wasn’t trying to nag you or make you look like a prom queen– she knew your posture affects emotion.
Erik Pepper is a psychologist at the University of San Francisco, and his work focuses on how emotions and thoughts affect energy levels and posture AND how energy levels and posture affect emotions and thoughts.
Our brains receive information from neurons all throughout our body. And the way we hold our body sends the brain particular messages. This is one reason why many people feel emotionally down after a day at work. All of that sitting (and slouching in front of the computer) is sending your brain a message of depressed energy.
Think about it: when you’re excited, your body automatically stands taller with your chin higher and facial muscles engaged. You have open eyes and a relaxed, smiling mouth. When you’re angry, though, the closed posture of crossed arms, slumped shoulders, and clenched jaw sends your brain a very different message.
Your posture embodies your emotions, but your emotions are also sending your brain a message, too. Your brain responds by releasing a hormone appropriate for the situation. That’s the neurological feedback loop at work.
Have you seen Harvard professor Amy Cuddy’s TED talk about Power Poses? In that 2012 presentation, Cuddy raised the idea that by taking particular postures, we can trigger the brain to release beneficial hormones. This concept changed the way people think about how posture affects emotion.
If you can hold your body in ways that actually make you feel more confident and assured, shouldn’t we be practicing that all the time? But like most things in life, our posture is habitually rooted. Changing it, even if we know the benefits of doing so, is hard work.
I think, though, that’s where the real power of Power Poses lies: they are used in specific, trigger events where we need to psyche ourselves up. If we can turn our attention to how our posture affects emotion in big situations, that will raise our awareness at other times as well.
To put it another way, the link between how posture affects emotion is a two way street. Emotion also affects posture. We can use this to our advantage!
The next time you’re feeling low– whether it’s mentally low or physically low– stand tall. Whether you choose to simply hold a power pose or go for a walk (or a skip!), you’ll be flipping the script your brain is writing.
This is not just exercise moving blood around the body to reinvigorate you. This is you taking control to send your brain a message.
And if you’re really feeling like embracing the spirit of how posture affects emotion, take a cue from our Friend Phoebe and let your body take the lead:
If you’re interested in posture, check out 3 Ways Good Posture During Exercise Boosts Benefits.