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4 Things I Wish I’d Known About Managing Anxiety

4 Things I Wish I’d Known About Managing Anxiety

I’ve recently turned 30 and I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on my misspent youth – more specifically, on the moment I decided to slap the ugly mug of anxiety with my glove of self-belief!  I’d like to think that I handled this duel with the wit and finesse of a young Cary Elwes ala The Princess Bride, but if I’m honest it probably looks more like an ungodly montage of Mr Bean and Bridget Jones’ Diary – complete with binge eating and drinking, ineptitude, embarrassment, and clumsy attempts at fitness.

Anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders in the world, and according to Beyond Blue 1 in 4 people will probably experience it at least once in their life.  For some of us, this monster will be ever-present and it takes considerable energy to keep this beast subdued and chained up somewhere to keep it from hurting us, our loved ones and even our professional aspirations.  At the time, I had no idea anxiety was even a ‘thing’ and completely thought that there was something physically wrong with me. Fortunately, I sought help and have since learnt a thing or two about making this condition sit and play dead.  Of course, everyone is different and you’ve got to tailor your own approach, but if you’re reading this at 2am and feel like your head is rotating like that girl from The Exorcist, don’t start climbing the walls just yet!

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1. The old switch-a-roo!  Stop, breath, distract, relax

You want to be loving life like a mighty Gyarados, but instead you’re a Magikarp hyperventilating on the floor.  We can all agree that panic attacks are the worst.  The important thing to remember (unless you have been medically diagnosed with heart condition!) is that you’re not having a heart attack – you’re just having a crappy moment.  One of the first things my psychologist told me to do was take care of my physical symptoms first.  Stop for a moment and take slow, deep breaths so you don’t feel light-headed.  Once the world has stopped spinning, pop on your favourite tune, or do some light domestic task – basically anything simple that will distract your brain from freaking out.  When you’ve got this technique down pat, you’ll feel like Houdini!  Your brain will be tricked into thinking everything is fine and dandy (at it will be!), your heart rate will regulate itself and you’ll start to feel normal again.  At this point, choose a safe activity that you find relaxing and treat it like a mental reward for getting through it.

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2. Get a little help from a friend

You’re never alone, and remember that you are surrounded by people who care about you!  Some people are better at understanding and talking you through your bad days than others.  Reach out to a good friend or family member who has this gift of empathy to help you get back on track.  Surrounding yourself with positive people who have a balanced and chilled out view of life will also help you get perspective.  If you’re convinced that nobody you know can help you or you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone close to you, ask your GP to recommend a psychologist.  Many healthcare schemes can offer a certain number of sessions at a reduced rate depending on your circumstances.  There are also a growing number of online resources to help you understand what may be causing your anxiety or depression, and what steps you can take to control it.

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3. Don’t focus on yourself too much

When you’re constantly facing a barrage of things to worry about, you can easily become self-absorbed or use it as a crutch to avoid getting out of your comfort zone.  This is not to say you’re a self-centred or weak person for having anxiety, but you can affect others by constantly finding nothing positive to talk about or focussing only on the negatives.  These thought patterns don’t help anyone, least of all you!  I’m guilty of falling into this trap, and it was only by recalling past conversations to my psychologist that I began to see that I was becoming a person I wouldn’t want to hang out with.  You can turn things around simply by being kind to yourself and others – post or tweet about something inspiring or beautiful, keep tabs on your nearest and dearest; organise a dinner, catch up over coffee or suggest a group activity you haven’t tried before.  Alternatively, you could try volunteering for a cause you feel passionate about.  When you hear news of your friends’ successes or tales of daring-do, don’t be envious – be happy for them!  This proves that if they have the power to create their own happiness, so do you.

4. Don’t let anxiety define you

When I was younger, I let my anxiety stand in the way of a lot of my goals in life – namely to travel overseas by myself.  Well, I’m happy to say that I have now completed 5 months’ worth of travel around Europe with my sister and on my own!   While it wasn’t completely anxiety-free, it all worked out fine in the end and I am a stronger person for it.  Each year since being diagnosed with anxiety at 24, I’ve set myself challenges to help me develop and broaden my perspective.  Take a look at what’s blocking you from your goals and start taking action by breaking those goals down and assessing what’s really stopping you from achieving them.  If you’re worried about how anxiety might prevent you from a rewarding career, consider this – all the people I know with anxiety have been some of the most talented and hard-working people I’ve come across.  Anxiety still has an unfortunate stigma attached to it causing some ill-informed, upper-management types to think that an employee with anxiety can’t handle pressure.  Think of it this way – you’re already lion-taming this beast and compiling that end of year report due Friday at the same time.  Pressure?  You eat it for breakfast!

I hope these tricks help you calm the farm!  However, any mental disorder can and should be dealt with before it takes over your life.  There are a number of ways you can address the effects of anxiety and no two journeys to recovery will be the same.  To find out more about this condition, there are few great online sites such as Beyond Blue, Headspace and Mind.org that will help you understand the symptoms and causes and where you can go to find help.  I hope you make 2016 the year to kick arse!

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Last Updated on January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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