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Elizabeth Scott, M.S.

Trick Yourself Into Feeling Less Stressed

By June 1, 2014

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One of my favorite discoveries from the field of psychology is that behaving a certain way can actually make us feel a certain way. During times of stress, I often think of the fact that putting a smile on your face--even a fake smile--can lead to a better mood and, in turn, a real smile. My friend Elizabeth (yes, a name twin) tends to put on wild and colorful outfits when she's feeling down, and by noon her mood has often begun to match the brightness of her ensemble. (She told me this the other day when I found her wearing head-to-toe turquoise accents.) New research points to another action we can take to relieve stress and improve our mood: posture!

If you find yourself slumping over your desk and wondering if your work is good enough, pay particular attention: researchers from Ohio State University have found that people who were told to sit up straight in their chairs were more likely to believe thoughts that they were writing down about how qualified for a job they were--they had greater confidence in their own thoughts. The results show how our body posture can affect not only how others perceive us, but also how we perceive ourselves, said Richard Petty, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at the University.

"Most of us were taught that sitting up straight gives a good impression to other people," Petty said in a press release. "But it turns out that our posture can also affect how we think about ourselves. If you sit up straight, you end up convincing yourself by the posture you're in."

The study, which appeared in the October issue of the European Journal of Social Psychology, included 71 students who were instructed to either "sit up straight" and "push out [their] chest]" or "sit slouched forward" with their "face looking at [their] knees" while typing at a computer. Students then were told to list either three positive or three negative personal traits relating to future professional performance on the job. After completing this task, the students took a survey in which they rated themselves on how well they would do as a future professional employee.

The end result of this was that when students wrote positive thoughts about themselves, they rated themselves more highly when in the upright than the slouched posture because the upright posture led to confidence in the positive thoughts. However, when students wrote negative thoughts about themselves, they rated themselves more negatively in the upright than the slouched posture because the upright posture led to more confidence in their negative thoughts.

This research speaks to the very real influence of body language on stress levels--sometimes we feel stressed and tend to tense up, slouch, and hunch over, not realizing that this not only leads to more shallow breathing, but to feeling less confident on a job (read: more stressed). It can also impact the effect positive affirmations have on you--do you believe yourself when you write them down, and how is that belief related to the effectiveness of the affirmations and the level of your stress?

As you're reading this, and throughout the day, I'd like you to become more aware of how you're holding your body. Sit up straight if you're slouching. Relax your shoulders if you find them tensed. Breathe from your belly if you realize your breathing is shallow and constricted (try these breathing exercises). And smile!

Does that make a difference?

Related Resources from Elizabeth Scott

October 7, 2009 at 9:23 pm
(1) Deborah says:

Actually, it did! I read this this morning and went through my day a little more aware of my posture, whether I was smiling or not, etc, and I found myself feeling less stressed when I remembered to breathe, sit up straight, and change how I carried myself. I guess it does work!

October 8, 2009 at 12:20 pm
(2) Mary F. says:

It works for me! I just have to keep reminding myself to put on a smile (real or otherwise) and sit up straight while working. Thanks!

October 9, 2009 at 1:35 am
(3) stressmanagementmom says:

I love the posture tip. When we hold our head up high, it changes our whole outlook on life.
I love affirmations – we can have + ones and – ones. we have got to be very aware of how those – ones sneak into our lives like weeds that take over our whole thought process. Thanks for the great blog!

July 7, 2011 at 1:08 pm
(4) arjun dhar says:

Putting on even a faint smile on my face works for me most often. Thanks to about.

October 5, 2013 at 11:56 pm
(5) Clayton says:

Good information. Lucky me I found your site by chance (stumbleupon).
I’ve saved as a favorite for later!

January 6, 2014 at 11:25 pm
(6) Steven E. Atencio says:

Hello there! This post couldn’t be written much better! Looking through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept talking about this. I will send this post to him. Pretty sure he will have a very good read. Thank you for sharing!

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