Is Your Body Talk All Wrong?

by Andrea M. Darcy
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Do we smile when we are happy - or could it be the other way around? Could smiling actually make us happy?

How powerful is our body language on ourselves and those around us?

What is body language?

Body language is the way we hold ourselves and move. And it's a form of communication that can be more powerful than the words we say. It can also be positive or negative.

Notice right now what you are doing with your body. Are you:

  • slouching?
  • scowling?
  • crossing your arms?
  • tensing your jaw and shoulders?
  • clenching your hands?

These are all negative body language.

Can negative body language really affect your moods?

Research has shown that yes, negative body language can bring us down.

That slump can leave you unfocussed and stressed. A study at the University of Auckland found that participants who were made to sit with good posture had better moods and felt better about themselves. Slumping, on the other hand, led to negative talk, and also obsessing on yourself, which means more self-criticism and less confidence.

And a study at Queen’s University in Canada found that the way we walk affects how negative or positive we are. Walking with swinging arms and as if you are kicking something, for example, raises confidence.

As for that scowl, years of study by Dr. Paul Ekman, a 'smile guru', concluded that just moving our lips and the skin around our eyes into smile formation can cause positive brain activity.

Try it right now. Smile, even if you don’t feel like it. Keep the smile as big as possible for a few minutes. Open your arms, relax your shoulders, and sit up straight. Do you feel at all different?

Body language and relationships

There are many myths about body language. For example, the idea that crossed arms are always about blocking others out, and touching our nose repetitively means we are a liar. These are both, according to former FBI agent and non-verbal communication expert Joe Navarro, more likely to be signs of self-soothing, meaning we are anxious or uncertain.

Work to understand your unique body language. How do you feel when you cross your arms? When do you do it? What does it mean for you?

Others will be picking up on how your body language affects you, and it can affect them, too. If you are shaking your leg and it makes you feel off-centred, you might be making others feel ungrounded. If you are tense, if you jaw is clenching or you are wringing your hands together, you’ll be giving others the idea that you might not want to be there.

And all this can affect the way others relate to you in turn. You might wonder why people don’t seem to like you, or find you intimidating. It could be your body language.

How to improve your moods with body language

Try the following to help your moods with your body:

1. Smile like you mean it.

Again, it’s shown that it can improve moods by sending positive messages to your brain.

2. Relax your muscles.

Therapists use relaxation with clients, either using mindfulness meditation or progressive muscle relaxation.

3. Try a power pose.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy found that by faking body postures of confidence and power, we can literally change our body chemistry. Things like pumping your fist in the air, or sitting in a 'power pose', with your arms flung open or behind your head, can raise your testosterone while lowering your cortisol as much as twenty-five per cent.

4. Use mirroring.

This is a technique that should not be over used, but can help others feel at ease around you. It means you follow their body language clues. If they cross your arms, you cross yours, if they lean in, you lean in slightly.

5. Breathe more deeply.

Anxiety and stress can cause us to breathe shallowly, or even hold our breaths. Each time you notice you are anxious or tense, take three deep breaths right into your stomach, also known as ‘diaphragm breathing’. If you have time, you can even spend a few minutes on focused deep breathing. It helps trigger the parasympathetic nervous system and calm you.

Is your body language a mess because you are depressed or anxious? Book a therapist now who understands and can help you move forward.

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