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Movement Can Help You Feel Better—Fast

Changing your posture and expression can help you shift out of negative emotion.

I felt the tension running through my shoulders and up into my neck and I was having a hard time thinking straight. I was on deadline and the words weren’t coming easily. I knew I needed a jumpstart, something to move from this stuck stage into a place of flow.

The last thing I felt like doing was taking a break to exercise. Yet, I knew, if I moved my body just a bit, boosted my heart rate a little, that I would feel better, so I headed to the gym.

After 45 minutes I returned, relaxed and revived and ready to work. My head was clear. I felt more optimistic and ideas flowed easier. For me, this was another vivid reminder of how moving my body can also shift my mood.

Shift Your Mood in an Instant

Readers regularly ask me what they can do to feel better, now. They want a quick tip; a strategy for easing the pain and stress so many are saddled with.

Gratitude can help. Compassion and mindful breathing are effective too. But, to improve your mood in an instant, move your body. Sit up straight, stand tall, exercise. Those things, and others gestures and postures, can help to change your emotional state just enough so that you can begin moving through the stress or bad feelings rather than becoming stuck in them.

Sitting with your feet up on the desk, or with a straight spine has been shown in studies to boost your feelings of confidence.

Yoga and diaphragmatic breathing helps people sleep better, and boosts positive emotions even in those who are suffering from post-traumatic stress.

And according to one study from Texans A&M University, lying down can reduce feelings of anger and hostility.

The Physical and Emotional Connection

Chemical changes occur all of the time in our bodies, particularly when we are afraid or stressed, or feeling excitement or love. Those chemical reactions change how we feel physically and send cues to our brains that can fuel our emotional response.

The way we feel emotionally also influences how we feel physically. When I’m really stressed, for example, my arthritis pain flairs. Physical pain can also be a symptom of depression.

Tune Into Your Body’s Response

The key, then, to using our bodies to invoke better-feeling moods starts by paying attention to what we are feeling in the first place. To notice what’s going on inside our bodies and to identify what we responded to externally that might have fired up our physiological response.

Listen to your body. Notice when the tension emerges, and what might prompt it. Notice when you feel the most secure or calm or grateful. Notice the physical sensations you experience when you have peace-of-mind.

Take care of your body too. Most of us get cranky when we are too tired, too hungry, too stressed. So, nourish your physical body with a little exercise, a lot of sleep, some good food and know that you are also helping to boost your mood.

Each day, it’s also worth adding in a couple of things that make both your body and your brain – your emotional state – feel good, too. Rock out to a favorite song. Garden. Go for a walk. Mediate. Journal. Do something you love.

Then, when you are paying attention and taking care of your body’s basic needs, you can also consciously move in ways that will induce specific positive feelings.

Four Mood-Changing Moves

There really is something to the mind-body-spirit connection and when all three are in alignment you’re going to feel better. This is the point, then, where spirituality and personal development become physical.

When we move with awareness and give attention to how we stand, sit, move during our days, we can change how we feel.

Here are four ways to do it.

Smile: Plenty of research, including one study from 1989 and another published in the journal Psychological Science last year proves that a smile – even a faky, contrived one – can actually induce happiness and reduce stress. So, even if you have to talk yourself into it, give yourself a grin or simply repeat the long “e” sound, as psychologist Robert Zajonc had participants do in that early study, to stretch out a smile, and you’ll feel better.

Give yourself a hug. Kristen Neff, renowned for her research into self-compassion suggests a hug as a way of coping with the stress of making a mistake. When we wrap our arms around, our arms or shoulders, our bodies release oxytocin which is causes us to feel more nurturing and less reactive.

Tilt your chin up. Look at the sky. Just look up. Lifting your chin up and letting your shoulders sit back improves mood and confidence in potentially difficult situations, according to Paula Niedenthal, a psychology professor, who has studied the link between posture and emotion. No surprise then, that people who keep their chins down and shoulders slumped generally don’t feel as positive.

Dance. Seriously. Just do it. Rock out by yourself in the living room, before the kids get home, or gently sway with your husband long after they are in bed. Scores of studies show that various dance forms decrease stress, improve focus and concentration, and yep, you guessed it, boost your mood.

So, next time you’re feeling blue, stressed, anxious, angry, or inadequate, shift your body, go for a walk, concoct a face-stretching smile, or change your posture and your mood may just follow will follow along.

Portions of this post originally appeared at

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