When hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur wrote the song “Keep Ya Head Up,” he was giving incredibly insightful advice.
Turning your day around can really be as simple as keeping your head held high, pulling your shoulders back and focusing on your breathing. Changing your posture can change the way you feel and get you through your good and bad days.
How Your Posture Affects Your Mood
The way you feel can change your posture, and your posture can change the way you feel. It may seem strange, because emotions are formed in your brain, while your posture is controlled by your muscles. But your brain and your muscles are connected by nerves that carry signals back and forth.
Nerves open a channel between your brain and muscles that allow them to talk to each other. When you want to express an emotion like anger, your brain might send signals to your muscles to cross your arms. Most of this happens without you even realizing it. Paul Ekman, a well-known researcher of emotions and facial expressions, found that emotional expressions are hardwired into human DNA.
When you feel a certain emotion, you assume some form of these hardwired postures. Your brain knows what these postures should look and feel like, so it sends signals down to your muscles to get you into the posture. Your brain has learned to connect the emotion you feel with the position of your muscles.
If you’re feeling sad, anxious, angry, afraid or self-conscious, you can put yourself into a more positive posture that will start to turn your mindset around. Putting yourself into a posture that the brain recognizes as feeling confident or happy can make your brain start to produce those feelings.
In fact, a 2016 study published in Cognition and Emotion found that it’s harder to recover from a bad mood if you stay in a hunched-over position. If changing the way you feel is really as simple as changing your posture, there’s no reason not to try it!
If sitting and stressing are two of the staples of your daily life, there may be a connection. When sitting at work or during your commute, your posture is probably slightly hunched over. At the same time, your brain is slowly stressing out.
The American Psychological Association mimicked these conditions in a 2015 study. They had participants sit either in a slouched or upright position and then asked them to perform a reading task followed by a speech test, both meant to create stress.
The researchers found that the group that remained sitting upright used more positive language and felt less fear, whereas the slouched group used more negative language and words that indicated sadness.
If you’re swamped by work and feel like you can’t catch a break, check to make sure you’re not slouching. Sit upright as much as possible and prepare to feel positivity and the confidence to handle your business.
Keeping the peace may be the goal, but it’s not always the reality. Sometimes you have a flash of anger seemingly out of nowhere. Before you know it, your body is tensed up and your heart rate is escalating. But you can quash it if you know what to look for.
When angry, your shoulders naturally rise and come forward slightly. At the same time, your head goes backward. And according to a 2014 study in Social Neuroscience, your arm and shoulder muscles tense up when you’re feeling angry. A separate study, published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, shows that people tend to lock their knees when they are angry.
To reverse anger’s effects on your body and mind, quickly shake out your arms and soften your knees to relieve tension. Make sure your shoulders haven’t tensed up, and if they have, shrug them up toward your ears and let them drop. Removing tension from your arms and shoulders will help take you out of your angry posture.
Some days you feel just like Charlie Brown — head down, hands in pockets and followed by your own personal rain cloud. It’s a classic indication of sadness: slumped-forward shoulders, a head held low and looking like you’re trying to shrink yourself.
To snap out of this mindset, stand up as straight as possible. If you’re in a safe space where nobody will judge you, try forcing yourself to laugh for one minute straight. Even though you might feel like a villain from a Batman movie, forcing yourself to laugh makes you feel happier, according to a 2002 study in Psychological Reports.
Prepping to give a big speech or an intimidating interview can leave you with butterflies in your stomach and sweat on your palms. When you’re not feeling confident, you may just want to go hide somewhere. You start to make yourself seem smaller and more invisible.
Instead, try shifting your posture to feel more confident. Prepare for a big moment by standing in a powerful stance. Set your feet wide — slightly more than shoulder-width apart — and put your hands on your hips to channel your inner superhero.
Puff out your chest and bring your shoulders back for two minutes. Imagine that you are trying to appear open and expansive. This will make you look and feel more confident, according to a 2012 study from the Harvard Business School.
When you’re afraid, you feel like you want to get away from something. It’s a feeling of needing to avoid. That’s why people tend to lean back and pull away when they’re afraid. You also tense up your arms and shoulders, like when you’re angry. Another hallmark of fear is quick, shallow breathing.
The easiest way to reverse your fear is to take long, deep breaths. According to researchers from Northwestern University, when people are afraid, they breathe rapidly and spend more time inhaling than exhaling.
To quickly reverse this trend, breathe out for five or more seconds. This stimulates something called the vagus nerve, which sends signals throughout your body to calm down. After your deep exhalation, shake out your arms to relieve some of the tension that fear brings to your body.