You may be wondering how in the world body language helps heal the heaviness of depression. Well I’m here to tell you how, why, and what to do to help someone you know or perhaps yourself who may be going through depression, anxiety, or a similar mental illness.
THE SCIENCE TO DEPRESSION
Whether you’re someone that cares about someone who has it, has had it before, or someone who chronically is depressed, there’s hope. According to the Mayoclinic, “depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder, or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living.”
When someone feels this way and it gets to the point where it’s disrupting their daily activities and lasting longer than a couple weeks, this is a depressive episode. The first thing to understand is what actually goes on physiologically when someone is depressed. It’s not something you can tell someone to “get over”–there’s actual chemical imbalances occurring in their body:
The serotonin and dopamine levels in the body drop. Serotonin and dopamine are the chemicals that help maintain the balance of your mood. Then, the body continues to change physically, leading to tiredness and low motivation. Now, I know what you’re really wondering is how in the world body language plays a part in all this? One of the first and most important parts of learning body language is becoming AWARE of your body through your gestures and movements. I want you to communicate to yourself through your body movements so you can indeed fight back.
Moving your body by going on a run or working out can help pump your endorphins, which help make you feel happy and relaxed. Exercise not only makes you happier, but gives you the added bonus of decreasing anxiety and increasing your concentration, focus and cognitive abilities.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, working out a couple hours before the evening is over is a good way to help you fall asleep. So put on your pump-up playlist and take a run around your neighborhood. Your body and mind will both thank you later.
SUPER TIP: Ever heard of a runner’s high? Your body, although it may be painful in the beginning, will begin to adjust to the exercise strain and release chemicals that will help you feel good. If you become disinterested in running every day, mix it up and do other exercises to get those endorphins going!
When we become stressed, our body adapts into its fight or flight response, which creates tension. The tension is created in our shoulders, lower back, and our head. Physical Therapist, Anne Whitist, states that stretching disrupts that tense physical response to stress and provides relief. Stress also can restrict blood flow throughout our bodies. Stretching can counter-attack by increasing blood flow. This helps bring back that circulation and relieve that tense ache in our muscles caused by stress.
As soon as you wake up in the morning, take a minute and stretch to get that blood flow circulation going. This will give yourself that boost to start your day. Throughout the day, do stretches to keep fighting the tension brought on by stress.
SUPER TIP: Research shows it’s much easier to create a new habit if you do it at the same time every day. As soon as you wake up in the morning to start your day, take a nice long stretch, and repeat it every morning.
Meditation forces you to take away your focus on what’s going on around you and focus on your body. Here are two of my favorite types I’ve personally used while either going through something on a smaller scale like a stressful day at work to something as big as a trauma. I’ve even used these at social events! Sometimes bad memories can trigger a depressed state, even something as small as a smell or maybe a familiar face. Or maybe it’s not a trigger, but you put on your “happy mask” to go out and can’t get that nagging weight to go away. Here are a couple tips to start:
If you’re a beginner, it would be advisable to practice in a place where you can avoid disruptions. The first step of body language is becoming aware of your own body’s movements first. In meditation, you focus on your body. Focus all your attention on your hand. Now starting from the outside of your hand at your thumb, take deep breaths and focus on the feeling of your thumb. Then try and focus on feeling your heartbeat in your thumb. Once you’ve done this, move to the next finger and go through your whole hand and back. This enables you to come back to the present moment and not get lost in the negative, destructive thoughts or memories. When you’re replaying negative thoughts or you just feel that heaviness coming in, change your focus to this and know that you are here, you are safe, and you are loved.
This involves both of your hands, placing one on your stomach and one on your chest. This is a breathing exercise where your goal is to keep your chest still and breathe so that your stomach moves outwards while your chest stays flat. When you inhale think positive thoughts and exhale out what is bothering you in the moment. In body language, people use a lot of self-soothing techniques, which normally we want to stay clear of, but this type of self-soothing is a positive technique that can help calm your nerves and prepare you to be calm in the present.
SUPER TIP: Once you find a quiet room to practice these, you’ll become a pro at doing it in a place where you’re faced with more distractions. These two are my favorites because they’re more discreet and you can find time to do it in a busy work environment.
HUG A TREE
Yes…you read that correctly. Studies have proven that the green open spaces in nature have a calming effect that can boost our immune system, increase happiness, and reduce stress. It is also proven to help those with mental illnesses including ADHD, depression, and anxiety. It has also been used to help those who struggle with headaches. It increases our concentration and decreases our stress levels.
Take time for yourself by going on a relaxing stroll through the woods. Find peace in the quietness and relax in the beauty of the nature around you. Life is busy enough as it is, taking time for yourself is just as important as anything else you may have on your schedule.
SUPER TIP: Not only nature but the color green is a big contributor. If you're in a stressful workplace environment, change the scene of your background computer monitor to a green, nature background. Want to learn more? Here is an article from the Science of People on color psychology
The power pose is when you take up as much room as possible with your body to help you feel confident, and to help you take on whatever situation you have in front of you. The science behind it is thanks to Harvard Professor, Amy Cuddy, who found that our testosterone (that go-getter/ I can do this hormone) increases with the more space you take up and our cortisol (our stress hormone) decreases. It’s even better if you know you’re about to walk into a stressful situation. Do the power pose beforehand to prepare you and increase your confidence and competence. It can be something as simple and stealthy as sitting up in your chair and squaring your shoulders outwards and sitting tall.
SUPER TIP: Just be aware to not spread out in the middle of a room with other people, this can be seen as arrogant! You'll want to go into something called a launch stance where you're standing straight, feet slightly apart and shoulders back so you still look confident and approachable.
THE POWER OF A SMILE
There is something called the Facial Feedback Hypothesis which explains that when we make an expression it taps into our emotional response as well. This means that if you smile for long enough you can begin to feel happier, if you frown for long enough you will begin to feel sad, etc. Too often our minds will work against us and tell us we aren’t special, strong, beautiful, or influential. Combat that negative thinking by taking the time to look at yourself in the mirror, make the biggest smile you can make, and tell yourself positive things.
SUPER TIP: The study of mirror neurons has helped us to also understand that we match the expression we see on people, next time you see someone smile and it may make their day a little better too.
BONUS: Here's a resource on how body language can also help with dealing with stress:
Let me know your own techniques when dealing with stress, anxiety, or a mental illness, and how you fight it. Tweet me your ideas or pictures at@ExpressionsSpk or share your own story on the Facebook page
Cuddy, A., Wilmuth, C., & Carney, D. (2012, August 31). The Benefit of Power Posing Before a High Stakes Social Evaluation. Retrieved December 30, 2015, from https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/9547823/13-027.pdf?sequence=1
Depression (major depressive disorder). (n.d.). Retrieved June 29, 2016, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/basics/definition/con-20032977
NaturalNews.com. (n.d.). Retrieved June 29, 2016, from http://www.naturalnews.com/032782_tree_huggers_health.html
Why Does Stretching Release Stress. (n.d.). Retrieved June 29, 2016, from http://stress.lovetoknow.com/Why_Does_Stretching_Release_Stress