Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sit up straight - how complicated is that?

Sometimes I wonder how we came to complicate mental health to the point where some people see a doctor's prescription as the way to treat a touch of the blues. Of course, there are levels of depression, anxiety and distress which require skilled professional intervention. But there are also lots of simple things we can do for ourselves, at no cost, to improve our mood.

My Irish Times column That's Men for You this week deals with how we affect our mood by our physical demeanour. It refers to one study (link is to a pdf file) in which participants were asked to adopt the facial expressions linked with happiness anger and sadness. When they were tested later, those who had assumed facial expressions consistent with happiness were happier than they had been at the start, those who had assumed an angry look were angrier than at the start and so on. Even the sort of memories. Interestingly, when asked to recall events from their lives, those who had practised looking angry were more likely to recall “angry” memories and so on.

In another experiment, reported on the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog, men who sat up straight for three minutes did better in a subsequent maths test than men who slouched! Curiously, the sitting-up-straight effect didn't work for women - females who slouched did better than females who sat up straight.

The idea that our physical demeanour affects our mood can be traced back at least as far as the great American psychologist William James and probably farther. Indeed, Buddhist psychology suggests that our moods are the result of certain conditions - so if, say, you walk confidently you have created one of the conditions that can lead to a feeling of confidence.

Try it, see what happens.....

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