You may have heard that body language accounts for a large percentage of all communication — but you might be surprised to learn that even the subtlest of movements can improve your entire outlook. “The brain’s limbic system, in charge of emotions, is also the center of nonverbal communication,” explains body language expert Patti Wood, author of Snap: Making the Most of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma (Buy from Amazon, $15.95). Most of us think that when we experience an emotion, like joy or excitement, our body responds and reflects that feeling. But the reverse is also true, she says. “We can put our body into positions that instantly generate how we want to feel.” Read on to discover the simple “joy moves” that will shift your mind, body and spirit from blah to bliss in a flash.
Lonely? Swing your arms.
Gently swaying back-and-forth, as we did in our mother’s womb, is a “comfort cue” that unleashes the bonding chemical oxytocin, helping us immediately feel more connected to others, says Wood. But there’s no need to hop into a rocking chair to get the benefits — just swing your arms while standing or pump them back-and-forth while walking. Not only does moving your arms across your body mimic that soothing swaying sensation, but it also engages both hemispheres of your brain, curbing anxiety and allowing you to shift into a more lifted mood much more quickly.
Anxious? Stand like Wonder Woman.
When we’re worried, not only does our mind recoil from perceived threats, our body also goes into retreat. “Anxiety causes us to move our arms inward and our feet closer together,” says Wood. She suggests countering this “closed” body language by placing your hands on your hips and feet in a wide stance, like Wonder Woman. “Moving your limbs away from your body signals that you’re safe and in control,” she says. Then take one step forward — this tells your brain that you’re literally moving away from danger. In fact, Wood often advises folks nervous about public speaking to take a small step forward before they begin, to steady their nerves.
Self-conscious? Do a “victory pose.”
Boosting your can-do is as easy as lifting your hands into the air. “When we put them straight at our sides, our energy goes down and we even make fewer facial expressions,” says Wood. But just raising our arms above our head, as if in triumph, creates expansive body language — and when we feel bigger, our sense of self soars. “Just hold your hands above your head, like you’re swaying to a concert, for three seconds,” she urges, explaining that another fun way to effortlessly trigger this blissful pose is by playing your favorite song. “Music automatically brings your arms up, unleashing confidence.”
Sad or blue? Smile with your eyes.
The human brain is a miracle of intelligence and creativity — yet it can be “tricked” into feeling exactly what we want it to. If you’re in a blue mood, for example, flash a smile to prompt positive emotions, encourages Wood. “Picture someone you love, because to be effective, your smile has to feel genuine.” Along with lifting the corners of your mouth, she suggests raising your forehead muscles and crinkling your eyes. Flashing such a grin is shown to lift spirits. Indeed, what may have begun as a “faux” smile will quickly lead to very real joy.
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A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.