5 Physical ways to feel good
Begin by loosening your body!
Sometimes an unpleasant mood isn’t so easy to shake off.
The mood seems to have such a grip that changing things through 'positive thinking' doesn’t work.
Why is this? Why are such moods resistant to positive thinking?
Well, the two key pieces in a mood are
Mind - your thinking (mental images and self-talk)
Body - your physiology (all of it and not just your posture).
Each feeds the other and maintains or strengthens the mood. This means you need to change each of them to ensure your mood change lasts.
Why does Positive thinking not always work?
Many of us, who believe in being positive, attempt to shake off a negative mood by changing our thoughts.
So we imagine positive things and encourage ourselves through self talk: Come on think positively, cheer up, calm down, you can beat this, look on the bright side, that sort of thing.
But if it’s even a moderately strong mood or if it has ‘taken root’ over hours or days then this positive thinking isn’t going to have much impact. Why? Because the physiology of the mood is too powerful.
This is why, once we recognise that our Positive Thinking isn't working, we tend to give... and just put up with the negative mood.
...the good news is that when this positive approach doesn't work it's usually because we are simply not going about things the right way.
Get the sequence right in mood-changing
The quickest way to shake off a negative mood is to begin with your ‘physicals’ i.e. your body. Mood changing is easier this way round: it paves the way for clearer and more positive thinking.
1. Physiology first: the first step is to change your body - posture, tension, erratic breathing, achiness, etc.
2. Thoughts second: once you've physically loosened things up then you can more easily deal with your thoughts!
Loosen up - physically
First, check and change them:
Scan for tension. Start from the head and check down to your toes for tense areas.
Release this tension by moving about or/and by stretching the tight areas. (Stretching is great. Find a system that works for you, stick to it for a couple of weeks - and you'll feel the difference - do a Google search on 'Stretching Exercises'. I find Arthur Balaskas' "Soft Exercise" book excellent and have used it for years - and, no. this is not an affiliate link!)
Tension builds up quite quickly in the face and especially in the brow, eye muscles, and the jaw. Stretch these to loosen.
Poor breathing has an amazing effect on mood (check the six articles on our other site)
Once you've begun loosening up your breathing, posture and facial muscles use the following five tips to maintain momentum. It's best to treat them as 1 + 4 because the first one has a different approach to the others.
Tip 1: Loosen the mood:
‘Loosen it’, is like first aid for the emotions. Use it, backed up by the following 4 tips, when you need to quickly shake off a negative mood and then support this by using mental techniques or some of the other 4 physical tips - or both.
Tips 2-5: On-going action
These are for everyday ‘maintenance’ use. Yes, you can use them to back up the ‘Loosen it’ technique. But they are really for feeling good more of the time and being less prone to negative moods.
Tip 1: How to loosen a negative mood
With this quick method you change as much of your physiology as possible. And it works best if you move about rather than merely change your posture. Loosen up your muscles and posture by walking about and gently swinging your arms. Aim to achieve the opposite posture to the negative one and as quickly as possible.
If you are sitting quietly then stand up and move energetically. If you were pacing about in an agitated manner physically become quiet by sitting or lying and slowing your breathing – or by walking about in a deliberately slow manner.
(Be careful with the old advice to take deep breaths. Fast and deep breathing energises, agitates, and speeds up the thinking. Slow breathing and shallow breathing is calming.)
This loosening up paves the way for other changes – physical and mental. It works because you physically interrupt the cycle of mind+body feeding one another in a cycle of negativity.
Loosen it is not designed to get rid of the negative mood. You’re simply breaking the loop between physiology and thinking. This makes it easier to change your thinking. (For lots of techniques to change your mood check these articles).
The following four techniques are not for very quick mood changes. They are for on-going everyday use. Your aim is to make them habitual so that you feel better more of the time.
Tips 2-5: The on-going methods
(2) Sit less, move more
We sit too much. Many of us spend six or more hours a day sitting – at work, in cars, and on settees. Our bodies evolved to be physically active most of our waking hours but this design no longer suits modern life. Or perhaps modern life isn’t suitable for how our minds and bodies are designed..
All this sitting actually makes us tired, causes health problems, and doesn’t encourage bright and elevated moods. If you’re unconvinced compare how you feel on days when you do a lot of moving about a lot with days when you spend much of your time sitting.
Here’s how: :
- Get out of the chair and move about for a couple of minutes every hour. If your job requires you to sit for long periods (call centres, some offices, supermarket tills, for example) use toilet breaks or trips to the water cooler to loosen up your posture – and make up for the inactivity after work.
- Stand more than sit. Even in the above occupations it’s usually possible to alternate periods of standing with sitting. (Stand-up desks are great, especially the adjustable ones where you can stand for a couple of hours then sit for an hour or so. I’ve been using one since last summer and find it great.)
- Check and adjust your posture every hour or so until good posture becomes the norm. Aim to sit towards the front edge of the chair. Arch your lower back in. Sit upright rather than slump or slouch.
- Drop your shoulders – allow the neck to lengthen and the chin to tuck in slightly. Imagine a thread drawing the crown of your head upwards and slightly forwards.
- Look around you more, especially you use a computer screen. It relaxes your eye muscles, because they get to change focus, and helps keep the shoulder muscles loose. And it reminds you that there is more to life than that little world in front of your eyes.
- ‘Will sitting less really affect my mood?’ There is a lot of research evidence which suggests it will. But the best test is to do it for a week or two and find out how it works for you.
And if you do need a few facts to motivate you check this article from The Washington Post. http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/page/national/the-health-hazards-of-sitting/750/
(3) Walk like a child!
Watch how healthy children walk, before they reach the cool-teenager shuffle stage, that is. And compare that with the other extreme - how a lot of elderly people walk.
The healthy child walks with a spring or a bounce in their step, swinging arms, legs moving from the hips and with head up and looking around them. On the other hand many elderly people don’t walk – they shuffle along with tiny steps moving from the knees, barely lifting their feet and with head down. (And, after a first draft of this article I went out for a walk along Bournemouth beach and saw lots of lovely exceptions to this.)
How we walk is called our gait and it has a quite powerful impact on our feelings. When we are happy and enthusiastic we walk with vitality and a bounce. Depressed people allow their posture to collapse. They shuffle along looking at the ground. And the walking gait of most of us is somewhere in between.
- Compare the effect of different gaits to convince yourself. Walk around in the depressive or elderly gait described above for about 5 minutes. Now spend a few minutes walking in a child-like manner. Notice the impact on your mood.
- Develop a better walking style. Walk a little faster. Aim for a slight bounce or spring in your step. Swing your legs from the hips. Swing your arms.
- As you walk look around you and above you rather than at the ground.
You don’t have to do this all the time. Initially just do it for a short periods each day. As you discover how much better it makes you feel you could find yourself doing it more of the time - without realising it.
(4) Sing – aloud!
You tend to get funny looks from them if you suggest to most people that they sing aloud to feel good. This is especially here in Northern Europe where we’re quite inhibited about that sort of thing.
Yet singing is an instant mood changer. And a powerful one, too.
Now before you skip this one and quickly move to the next tip, recognise that you don’t need to be extravagantly extravert or uninhibited to use singing to change your mood!
You can sing when you’re alone at home, for example. And driving is a great opportunity to sing aloud. You can sing quite softly when out for a walk in the park or countryside.
Experiment. Spend five or ten minutes singing happy songs, especially with a lively rhythm, and notice how your mood changes.
Select songs associated with good memories as this makes the mood change even more powerful – because you’re utilising the NLP anchoring phenomenon.
One additional benefit of singing aloud is that it blocks the internal self talk. And inner self talk is how a lot of us maintain negative moods. Does humming have the same benefits? Yes. It’s not as powerful as singing but you’re likely to use it more frequently, so it could be a better way. Give it a go while walking to work, cooking, in the gym, or just about anywhere.
(Feel like a new hobby? Join a choir. Lots of scientific research suggests that this is probably the most beneficial form of singing. )
(5) Smiling eyes
This one is quite subtle. It’s easier to demonstrate than explain verbally – but here goes, anyway, and you may need to play with this for a few days to recognise its power.
- Smile – even if you don’t mean it. No, not just with your mouth - smile with your whole face and especially with your eyes.
- Now let the smile fade – very slowly, but not completely…
…and keep that last vestige of the smile. Last vestige? Well, when your smile includes your eyes there is a crinkling up of the muscles of the lower eyelid. That’s the piece to keep – that crinkling up of the muscles immediately under the eyes.
Now keep that ‘crinkling’ – all of the time - and you’ve got smiling eyes! It’s actually an ‘invisible smile’ because if you do it right it’s almost imperceptible.
Want to make this work even better? Very slightly turn up the corners of your mouth as you smile with your eyes.
Give this a fair trial – at least hourly for a day or two. You’ll find that it isn’t easy to stay moody or irritable if you keep this sensation.
Make them work for you
These physical techniques for feeling good are useful tools or feeling good. And they can be integrated into your daily life because you don’t have to stop what you’re doing to use them.
The resulting mood change is noticeable but may not last very long in the beginning.
So you will need to practise the techniques for a little while until they become habitual. But the more you use them the more you benefit from them – and in this way they produce their own motivation.
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