“If you’re going to get any joy out of being depressed, you’ve got to stand like this. The worst thing you can do is straighten up and hold your head high because you’ll start to feel better.” Charlie Brown
Love that guy. What a medicine man. The mind/body connection is a thoroughly explored subject, and Charlie Brown sums it up nicely. Now, the discussion has evolved to a more nuanced understanding: the mind is the body and the body is the mind. Let’s take it a step beyond understanding to acceptance and help ourselves out.
Much of our stress arises from our perception of situations. We have the ability to reframe these situations, think differently about them, and therefore feel differently. Thinking is in the mind; feeling is in the body. Think differently; feel differently. For example, ever notice how your body feels when you’re thinking angry thoughts? And how about when you’re focused on your happiest memories?
So, how does the body change the mind? Movement is fundamental to the vitality of a human body. Movement (we now call it exercise and put it on our To-Do list) keep tissues pliable, blood flowing, oxygen pumping. Vital signs of life. Movement also decreases cortisol levels, one of the primary hormones associated with stress, increases testosterone, and prompts the release of endorphins, which trigger positive feelings in the body and even reduce your perception of pain. Ever used a workout to shift your mood or taken a walk to get your thoughts together? Then you’ve experienced how exercise shifts your thinking. Move differently (or just move at all): think differently.
Body = mind. Mind = body.
The potential for using your body to change your mindset is fascinating. Even posture – how you are sitting, standing, walking, listening, speaking – will be re-enforced with chemical messengers channeling throughout your body. Amy Cullen, a social psychologist and Harvard researcher did a great TED Talk on how we can change our body chemistry simply by changing our body position. Literally; your body language shapes who you are. Subjects who stood in a “power pose” for just two minutes – think badass Wonder Woman standing tall with her hands on her hips, cape flapping in the breeze of her awesomeness – experienced a drop in cortisol and a rise in testosterone. And, they reported feeling more powerful.
Say you’re at home sunk into the sofa. Who are you? How would you characterize that person? Perhaps not feeling in touch with your inner athlete? Now how about after that gym visit, or a brisk walk around the neighborhood behind the wagging tail of your dog? Now who are you?
We move our body as an expression of who and how we are, or who and how we perceive ourself to be. Amy Cuddy’s research (and personal experience) suggests that to change this we don’t have to “fake it ’til we make it”, but rather “fake it ’til we become it”. Strike a pose, and change your chemistry.
The body changes the mind. The mind changes the body. One, continuous feedback loop. Just choose your starting point.