You don’t have to relax, nor use new-age mindfulness techniques which not only waste time, but can also make you more anxious, since you worry about whether you’re doing them properly.
Cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone, is a biologically synthesised compound like any other. There are many nutrients (vitamin C), foods (pomegranate), and lifestyle hacks (sleeping well) which are guaranteed to inhibit the hormone…
…and one of the easiest biological hacks by far is to simply improve your posture.
Stand up straight and trick your subconscious mind
In nature, much of the communication we do is non-verbal. Humans often speak much more with our body language and facial expressions than we do with our mouths. It’s well established in both studies and nature documentaries that powerful humans and animals both have the instinct to show “alpha” body language.
A male baboon, for example, might express his power by holding his breath and causing his chest to expand. A silverback gorilla might start beating its chest furiously.
Consider your workplace; when you go for a job interview, it’s the big boss sitting behind the expansive oak desk. It’s him sitting in a massive chair, lording over you. Meanwhile you just have a measly plastic stool to sit on.
Likewise, insecurity and anxiety can also be seen through body language. Restless legs, failure to make eye contact, contracting into a small space, crossing arms, and a hunched up posture all demonstrate that there is fear and weakness in your mind. As does a tortoise withdrawing into its shell at the sight of a human’s shadow, or a dog sticking its tail between its legs.
Why? The answer is that these body poses are hard wired into human brains, as well as all animals. It’s all evolutionary instinct dating back from our tribal times in the wild. You don’t start fidgeting on purpose when you’re nervous, you get the urge to do it instinctively. Often, you don’t even notice it.
Being strongminded causes you to display strong body language, but what’s interesting is that the reverse is true. Slouching into a weak and contractive position can make your mind weaker.
The important news for acne is that showing powerful body language can cause actual neurological and hormonal changes that boost your resistance to stress.
One fascinating study
In 2012, a researcher at Harvard University called Amy Cuddy performed a study on body language and the impact it has on hormones and mood. Cuddy and her researchers have categorised different body positions as either “high power” or “low power”.
High power poses involve being open and relaxed, including enlargement of occupied space, widespread limbs, a straight back, and generally spreading out. Lower power poses are closed and defensive, with signs like a body collapsed inwards, limbs fidgeting and touching the torso, and minimized occupied space.
The image below shows the different types of power poses which, it should be noted, are pretty much identical for men and women.
To prove their theories Cuddy and her team of scientists gathered 42 students, both male and female, and assigned each of them a high power or low power pose, which varied according to the picture above.
The goal was to analyse the impact on hormones so firstly, a saliva sample was obtained from each patient. Serum cortisol and testosterone were measured. Each patient was then asked to perform their pose for two minutes. Finally, a second saliva sample was obtained from every patient and the hormone levels measured again.
The results were fascinating. You can see what happened to cortisol (the stress hormone) from the graph below:
In the patients with a strong, expansive and dominant pose, cortisol plummeted by 25%. In the weak, slouching posers, cortisol increased by 15%.
All other factors were equal; they were fed no supplements or pills and they stayed inside, rather than being exposed to sunlight. The researchers didn’t pretend to slap them in the face or do anything else designed to trigger anxiety. Only the change in posture could have explained it.
It is possible that the patients knew of the study’s intention. They might have read the research and expected that a powerful pose would slash their stress. Consequently a placebo effect could have kicked in and made it really happen.
However, that’s no bad thing because it would demonstrate that a simple thought, a mere change in your mind-set can radically alter your cortisol levels. What’s more, the original goal of adopting a powerful body pose is partly designed to trick your primitive mind in the first place.
What’s certain is that this a completely free way to reduce stress and thus acne. You can partially clear your skin just by standing up straight.
Even better, it takes just two minutes to accomplish the 25% reduction. Presumably, if you incorporate powerful body language into your daily routine, you’ll enjoy even better results.
According to Cuddy and her researchers, the high power group and the lower power group also experienced a 20% increase and 10% decrease in salivary levels of the hormone testosterone, respectively. That’s also excellent news. Testosterone is known to inhibit cortisol but it has mind-enhancing benefits of its own, by increasing production of happiness neurotransmitters like serotonin.
Higher testosterone levels have countless mental benefits, particularly in the modern world where more men have low levels than ever. They can boost your strength, power, energy level, libido, sense of wellbeing, and even pain tolerance. Not to mention that if you’re an athlete, you’ll build muscle far faster at the gym and perform better on the field.
The acne patient’s guide to powerful body language
Clearly, this is a great strategy if you’re chronically stressed. But nearly everybody can benefit because a lot of people today slouch and shrink inwards whether they realise it or not. We spend so long hunched over lap tops or iPads that our backs are constantly in a bent position.
Take a look in a shop window or large mirror as you walk past. Are you slouched, looking at the floor, with your hands stuffed away in your pockets? If so you’ve got great scope for boosting your mood.
If you’re sitting reading this on a laptop then how are you positioned? Are you crumpled in, with your legs crossed and your arms touching your torso?
The worse your posture is on a daily basis, the more you stand to gain, and the improvements can start RIGHT NOW. If you’re sitting, then right now, sit your back up straight. Stretch your legs out, and cup the back of your head in your hands with your elbows outstretched. Look at the picture above and copy the pose.
There’s one simple criteria for a power pose: make your body cover as much territory as possible. In our instinctive animal brains, it is really territory and space that matters most when it comes to power.
Space is status. Think of a coalition of lions patrolling the savannah and roaring when a rival clan steps past a certain tree. There’s one study that found that when birds were injected with testosterone and released into the sky, they automatically began to patrol a wider area.
Therefore you’ve got stand straight, not hunched over like an old man. Do the same thing as you walk; don’t look at the pavement. Try looking at the upper floors of buildings just to encourage yourself to keep your neck straight. You should pretend you’re balancing your head on your shoulders, like you’re balancing a football on the end of your neck.
Generally, you should make your body open and relaxed not defensive. When you sit your legs should be stretched out. You can see the best poses clearly in the photos.
Try it now! You might notice a change in mind-set instantly.
As we discussed in this article, it’s not just a myth that stress causes acne. Cortisol and other neurotransmitters released in response to mental anxiety have many biological consequences…
Your digestive system flares up; food allergies become more likely, bad bacteria starts to overgrow. In the long run, the digestion of important nutrients can be impaired. Stress can also make your skin much oilier.
You might not have time to relax or buy stress busting supplements. I recommend strategies like megadosing vitamin C, which I do myself, but maybe you don’t have the money. If so, then incorporating powerful body language into your routine is too good an opportunity to ignore.
There’s some other similarly useful body hacks as well. Smiling can boost the happiness neurotransmitter serotonin in your brain, if you don’t feel like smiling. Forcing yourself to laugh can magically do the same.
Other benefits of proper posture
We humans aren’t designed to be sitting all the time. Stupid as it sounds, at the end of the day we’re designed to be running across the African savannah hunting gazelles and picking berries. You don’t have to adopt that lifestyle, but simply following the instructions above can have many other health benefits.
A healthy pain-free body – in November 2014 there was a big furore about “text neck”, a phenomenon caused by pedestrians wandering the streets looking at their smartphones. New York spine surgeon Dr Kenneth Hansraj published a study in the Surgical Technology International. He summarised his findings as follows:
“The weight seen by the spine dramatically increases when flexing the head forward at varying degrees. Loss of the natural curve of the cervical spine leads to incrementally increased stresses about the cervical spine. These stresses may lead to early wear, tear, degeneration, and possibly surgeries.
While it is nearly impossible to avoid the technologies that cause these issues, individuals should make an effort to look at their phones with a neutral spine and avoid spending hours each day hunched over.”
Your head weighs as much as several bowling balls. Bending down over a smart phone for hours is like carrying a small child around on a neck harness for several hours a day. Back pain is apparently on the rise in both adults and children. If you’ve been worrying troubled about a sore neck, then good posture good be the solution.
Headache relief – one 2008 study conducted by Italian researchers compared two groups of government employees over an eight-month span. The first group included 175 participants and was used as a comparative control in the experiment. The second group included 169 participants who were made to perform posture exercises every two to three hours. They were reminded to avoid excessive muscle contractions of the shoulder and neck areas, and educated about the benefits of proper posture. Participants in both groups tracked their headaches, shoulder, neck pain, and their use of pain medication using diaries.
By the end of the eight months, the second group reported 43 percent less neck and shoulder pain, 41 percent fewer headaches, and a 51 percent reduction in the use of pain medication.
How could this be? Well, other studies have found that sitting up straight can increase blood flow to the shoulder, neck and brain area, by up to 40% according to some cases. More blood in the brain should also boost mental function by delivering the nutrients needed for neurons and cells to fire.
More efficient digestion – sitting or standing upright improves the efficiency of your digestive organs. The reason is simple – when you slouch you put abnormal amounts of pressure on your intestines and your stomach. While research is still in its early stages, there’s evidence that proper posture is especially useful for treating acid reflux and hernias.
Respect – there’s another benefit to all this; nobody respects a guy who shuffles along, with a hunched back, looking around all unsure of himself, like he’s completely lost. He might be an expert in whatever field, but we have our animal instincts, and such a person’s body language screams weakness. Therefore, if you adopt body language that suggests you mean business, you chances of success in all areas of life will skyrocket. This is a classic example of “fake it till you make it”.
It’s all too easy to slip into bad posture on a daily basis, especially if you use laptops, read books, or have a desk-bound office job. Therefore it’s smart to make a real effort to change your instinctive body language, so that you adopt healthy power poses automatically.
Practise the instructions above as much as you can so that it simply becomes natural. You’ll then hijack your subconscious mind and enjoy lower stress on daily basis. I’m not one for all these new-age hocus pocus mind games, but I can tell you, you do feel a mental difference by standing up tall and proud.
Additionally, it’s smart to use other strategies to slash stress. Getting more vitamin C is recommended as the nutrient clears excess cortisol from your bloodstream.
Magnesium does the same, and that’s a mineral that vast swathes of the population are deficient in. Sleep deprivation is another massive cause of elevated stress hormones.
Thanks for reading!