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Four Simple Ways to Improve Your Day

green spaceFour simple ways to change your day, right now, using one of the most powerful free technologies available: the human body.

Close your eyes and breathe.
When you close your eyes and focus on your breath for even just a minute, the nervous system begins to slow down, increasing the ratio of alpha waves produced in your brain, and lowering pulse and blood pressure. Don’t worry about trying to breathe deeply or slowly (though that will naturally happen if you have more than a minute to devote to this practice). Just set a timer for a minute (or more if you can) and breathe. (This is a great exercise to offer to students as well.)

Smile. Even if you don’t feel like it.
One recent study instructed participants to smile, or manipulated their faces into smiles with chopsticks and then put them into stressful situations to compare with non-smiling participants. Heart rate and self-reported stress levels were lower in all the smiling participants through these tasks, even with the chopstick-propped smiles.

Take a short walk in a green space.
This study measured brain activity with portable EEGs on volunteers who walked through different parts of Edinburgh, measuring engagement, frustration, and meditative states. Green spaces provided the brain with a calmer kind of engagement than did city streets. A short green break can relax the brain and spur creativity (provided, of course, that you don’t spend your time outdoors reading email on your phone.)

Stand like superwoman to boost your confidence.
Harvard researcher Ann Cuddy has explored the biochemical effects of certain physical postures. In particular, her research finds that not standing with your feet in a wide stance and your hands on your hips moderately increases the ratio of testosterone in the bloodstream, encouraging more powerful behavior. [09/24/2013: Typo in previous sentence corrected.] In other words, certain positions are not just perceived by others as powerful in terms of body language, but they may also encourage you to feel more powerful. If you’re heading in to a stressful situation, a little deep breathing in a power pose beforehand can help you get centered and perform at your best. (If you prefer video, watch her TED talk)

[Creative Commons licensed image by Flickr user Peter Harrison]

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