5 Physical Adjustments to Help Reduce Sadness
Expressing and purging feelings of sadness is an important part of being human. There are times in our lives when we need to give this emotion the attention it deserves. However, it is just as important for us to recognize when sadness no longer serves us well. Chronic or prolonged states of negative emotions, like sadness, release higher levels of stress hormones and can compromise the immune system. Chronic sadness can also eventually lead to depression. It is vital to our health and well-being to learn how to shift away from and fully release high stress emotions, like sadness, but many don’t recognize how this emotion is chronically present in day-to-day posture, and much of it largely influenced by our use of technology.
Our modern technology-centered lifestyles are contributing to the rise of depression. The rate of depression has increased tremendously across the entire industrialized world. In the United States the rate of depression is 10 times higher today than it was two generations ago, and roughly one in four Americans will suffer from major depression at some point in their lives. In developing (third-world) countries clinical depression cases are much lower, and in hunter-gatherer communities, like the Kaluli people of the New Guinea highlands, depression is practically non-existent. 
Modern technology (computers, internet, social media, cell phones, televisions) have in one sense made our lives easier, but along with these conveniences also comes social isolation, less exercise, and limited exposure to sunlight and the natural world. We are spending most of our days and nights indoors and often curling our bodies around computer keyboards, tablets, and cellphones or slouched in soft furniture watching television.
Slumped, or sinking and folding posture can affect self-esteem, decrease communication efforts, and increase the use of sad and brooding language. In a study comparing upright and slumped seated postures, researchers found that upright participants reported higher self-esteem, more arousal, better mood, and lower fear, compared to slumped participants. The study concluded that upright-seated posture can reduce negative mood and increase positive mood, and recommended the use of upright posture as a simple behavioral strategy for reducing negative emotions, like sadness, and building resilience to stress.
5 Physical Adjustments to Help Reduce Sadness
Spinal compression is a part of sinking posture, sending strong signals of sadness to the brain. Decompressing, or lifting and lengthening the spine, sends the opposite signal of happiness and lightness. A good way to feel the difference between the two states is to intentionally compress the spine and then decompress it.
- Start by sitting in a firm chair, and place a hand on top of your head and gently push your hand downward. Do you feel your spine press downward slightly, compressing?
- Then, by gently grabbing the top of your head, or a little bit of hair on top of your head, gently pull upward, encouraging your spine to decompress.
- Try this a few times, until you get the sense of this compression and decompression movement, then take your hand away and try doing the same action without pressing and pulling your head.
- Then try the same exercise while standing. After finding the lifting and decompressing state, try to maintain that for a while as you walk around and sit back down.
- See how long you can maintain this posture before it compresses again.
Elevating your posture will counteract the slump. A slumping posture feels like gravity is pulling your shoulders down more, moving them toward your hips.
- Start by slumping or slouching, and you may feel that your pelvis rocks back, or your low back presses back slightly, to decrease the space between your shoulders and hips.
- Now, go in the opposite direction and, working against gravity’s pull, lift back up again, sit up high on your “sit bones” and at the same time, decompress the spine.
- Try sitting in this posture for at least a few minutes, relaxing the muscles enough to allow your stacked skeleton to support the posture, rather than muscle tension.
- Try standing and walking with this elevated and decompressed posture.
Closing and folding posture initiates strong sadness signals throughout the body, and also sends messages inside and out of powerlessness and defeat. Opening up your posture will provide remarkable benefits to your health, self-esteem, confidence, and relationships with others.
- To help you unfold, let’s look at what the fold looks like. Place a hand with your fingers pointing in toward your sternum, the vertical cartilage in the middle of your chest (or breast bone), and gently press inward, causing your shoulders and arms to curl forward.
- Then angle your knees and toes inward toward the midline of your body, and let your hands rest on top of each other in your lap, or cross your arms over each other, in the form of a self hug. Look down at your arms, or at the floor. This is a full body inward fold.
- Then, move everything in the opposite direction. Unfold and open up your posture. Lift your head up, focus your eyes directly out into the world, roll your shoulders back slightly and open up your chest area as you also elevate your torso and decompress your spine.
- Maintain this open sitting posture for a while.
4. Relax & Open the Face
The entire body, from head to foot, is constantly engaged in reciprocal neurological activity and certain muscles in our faces initiate an emotional response with the slightest movement. Sadness is triggered by muscles pinching in the forehead, just between the eyebrow area, where it looks like your eyebrows are knitted, or trying to meet in the upper area of your forehead, creating what some might call a worried look. This expression, along with narrowed and tense eyes (which triggers anger), is commonly seen on people peering at their computer screens, or staring down at their phones or tablets. Become aware of facial muscle tension, and try to release this tension when interacting with technology. Give yourself a few facial massages occasionally as you work to release tension, or indulge in a couple big yawns to really stretch out the muscles in the face and take a deep breath and stretch. Try this facial muscle exercise to help open up your facial muscles.
- With your mouth gently closed, send the corners of our mouth toward your ears (abducting muscles), essentially widening your closed mouth and perhaps feeling a smile forming.
- Then try to complete the same action with your eyes. Send the corners of your eyes toward the ears. This will be a very subtle movement and may feel quite challenging due to the small amount of movement possible in comparison to how much the mouth moves.
- Include the muscles in the tops of your cheeks, and just under your eyes. You may feel more movement toward your ears now.
- Can you also do the same with the muscles in your temples, or sides of your forehead?
- Can you feel the sensation of your face opening and widening? If not, try moving your muscles in the opposite direction, toward the bridge of the nose. Moving muscles in the opposite direction sometimes gives us new information. You might feel as if your face is starting to pinch or grimace. Then, move the muscles back out again, abducting them toward the ears. You might feel more movement in this direction now after having explored the opposite direction.
Practice this a few times until you get a sense of how to do the exercise. Then, consciously practice a subtle version of the open facial expression, along with the elevated and open posture as much as possible when using technology.
5. Adjust Your Technology
Is your computer set up to help you maintain positive emotional states? If not, make the necessary adjustments to support an open and elevated posture.
- Elevate your monitor to the height where your head is when you are consciously decompressing or lifting up through the spine, and your head does not need to tilt up or down to look right into the middle of the screen.
- If you work off of laptop, place it on a box or stack of books, and use a wireless keyboard and mouse.
- Use a keyboard with a wide design, so your hands don’t pull your arms and shoulders inward too much to type, causing your entire posture to fold.
- Make sure your chair supports an elevated and open posture. Adjust the height of the chair so your feet touch the floor comfortably. Sit in the middle or the front of the seat so you don’t lean back or slouch into the chair while typing.
Take some time to practice these exercises and become acutely aware of your posture when sitting for long periods of time. Adjust your computer workstation and acquire the accessories to support an elevated and open posture. The emotional and physical benefits are well worth the time and effort, and will be long lasting.
(This article was based on information and exercises from a new book, The Emotional Body, currently in development. Visit The Emotional Body book development web site and consider making a tax deductible donation while also reserving your First Edition, Limited Print copy of The Emotional Body. The lessons in this article are based on the Alba Method, a physical method for emotional regulation. If you are interested in learning more about Alba or taking one of our workshops, visit www.breathxpress.com)
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 Gómez-Galán, Marta & Dimitri De Bundel, Ann Van Eeckhaut, Ilse Smolders, Maria Lindskog. Dysfunctional Astrocytic Regulation of Glutamate Transmission in a Rat Model of Depression, Molecular Psychiatry, online 28 February 2012.
 Ilardi, Stephen. The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression Without Drugs. Da Capo Press, 2009.
 Nair, Shwetha; Sagar, Mark; Sollers III, John; Consedine, Nathan; Broadbent, Elizabeth. Do slumped and upright postures affect stress responses? A randomized trial. Health Psychology, Vol 34(6), Jun 2015, 632-641
 Porges, Stephen W. (2011) The polyvagal theory: Neurophysiological foundations of emotions, attachment, communication, self-regulation. New York: Norton & Company. 248