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5 Things Only People With Anxiety Would Understand

5 Things Only People With Anxiety Would Understand

Ah, anxiety. It’s a big (well, perhaps medium-sized) scary word that countless people are familiar with, either because they suffer from it themselves or know somebody who does. In the hustle and bustle of the modern age, it’s easy to forget that anxiety still plagues many of us. Indeed, some might even say that it doesn’t truly exist and that certain folks are just “acting” nervous or could easily snap out of their worries if only they listened to a short pep talk and ate an ice cream cone.

The bottom line is that most people don’t really understand anxiety. It isn’t something that can be turned on or off or be consciously controlled in an effective manner. To help you get a better sense of what exactly this malicious state of mind does to a person, here’s a short little list of some of the things that anxiety does to you, which I am familiar with since I suffer from it myself…

1. You worry (excessively) about your work.

This is a big one. All throughout school and continuing into college, I had an unfortunate tendency of not really believing in myself when it came to my assignments. In some sense this was a good thing, because it pushed me to better myself so as to avoid criticism. Still, I would have preferred going through life as most people do, rather than worrying every single moment whether what I’m doing is good enough or whether I’m up to the standards of whatever I’m involved in.

For those without anxiety, this might be a difficult concept to grasp. “Why worry about your work so much to the point that it becomes painful? And why don’t you believe in yourself when it’s clear that pretty much all of your schoolwork and actual work is fairly top notch? What’s the big deal?”

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Well, that’s just the thing. You’re totally accurate in your line of questioning, hypothetical person. We think our anxiety is just as preposterous as you do, except we can’t escape it. We know it doesn’t make sense, but we can’t shake it. Anxiety is like a thin layer of saran wrap encasing your brain, and when it tightens, flooding your thoughts with worry, all you can do is wait for it to loosen up on its own accord.

2. You experience the “turn-in dilemma.”

This one is similar to point #1, though it’s different enough that it deserved its own subheading. This is where I get to be frank with you: I experience anxiety when submitting the articles I write for this site. I like to call this the “turn-in dilemma” because my worries reach a peak when I send a completed article to be reviewed by my editors.

It’s a completely illogical worry, because I know I’ve done all I can to ensure that whatever I worked on was worthy of approval, and yet I still ruminate about it anyways. This extends beyond the work I do here of course, and includes essays I have to turn in, applications and e-mails I send, etc. There’s just something about giving a part of yourself over for someone else to judge that makes my anxiety flare up like Mount Vesuvius.

What can you normal folks do to help people like me? Well again, while words of encouragement help, time itself is the most effective salve. Over time, we anxiety-sufferers figure out our own coping mechanisms (usually unique to each person), and in the end these are more effective than anything most people could tell us.

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3. Thinking about the long-term future freaks you out.

I admit that my anxiety doesn’t extend to this particular department, though I do know people who worry constantly about the long-term future. This type of anxiety is nearly crushing in nature. You’ll look a year ahead and literally start to panic about every single thing you need to do to get you from where you are now to where you want to be then. Suddenly, everything you do in the present has more meaning, next year becomes tomorrow, and the stability of your fragile mind literally implodes, consumed by emotions ranging from panic to rage.

To be honest, I’m not sure how one can address someone experiencing this type of anxiety. Consoling them rarely works, and telling them that “things will just fall into place, you’ll see” tends to only make it worse. Give them their space and let them work out their own solution. At best, perhaps you can buy them some of their favorite food, or send them a link to a funny video. While you can’t force the anxiety out of them, you can at least try and make the process more bearable.

4. Thinking about the short-term future freaks you out.

This is the one that afflicts me, and it’s perhaps even more illogical than #3. While the person in #3 is worried about some of the more significant things they want to get done in life, people like me are more concerned about freaking out over smaller things happening in the present and near future. That means I worried about starting this article today, planning a run for tomorrow, finding time to read a book I enjoy, etc. For me, post-it notes are essential since they allow me to map out all of these nagging thoughts, and deal with them in bullet-point fashion.

Even a minor event, like having to help my mom out at her school, or having to drive to the market, can cause fear and trepidation to pierce my soul, leaving me momentarily stunned and frazzled by having to consider all the new potentialities inserted into my life.

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Yes, I know that these worries are completely ridiculous. Going back to the saran wrap analogy, however, it’s just not something you can fix with words or hugs or anything like that. When an anxiety attack strikes, there’s no point in rationalizing it, you have to deal with it head on, let it go through all of its paces, and shake it off yourself. Though you’ll never truly be rid of your worries, you can get better at dealing with them when they flare up.

5. You worry about pleasing others.

This is closely related to that whole concept of wanting everyone to like you. As you know, that’s pretty much impossible, because chances are if you can get persons A, B, and C to like you, you’ll enrage person D in some inexplicable way. When it comes to anxiety however, there’s no logic involved, and thus those who suffer from it will often try to do everything in their power to ensure that nobody dislikes them.

The monumental difficulty associated with this task is part of the reason why it induces anxiety attacks in me and others. Chances are, if somebody likes you for who you are, you wouldn’t have to bend to their will anyways. So, by trying to get everyone to enjoy your presence, you’re setting up a losing battle right from the start. This is a problem, particularly because the anxiety becomes about ten times worse when you finally run into somebody who couldn’t care less about you or your need to please them.

That’s when the worry really sets in. “Why don’t they like me? Is it something I said? Was it because I’m not good enough? Well I wouldn’t want to be friends with them either!” This continues until you convince yourself to literally hate whoever it is who showed you a perceived cold shoulder. That in itself isn’t healthy, but it’s unfortunately something that many anxiety sufferers deal with, including me. In some sense it’s almost like your anxiety forces you to find people who disapprove of you so that it can continue feeding you nefarious thoughts of self-doubt and depression.

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There’s really nothing normal folks can do to snap us out of this one either. Again, pretty much everyone suffering from anxiety knows that their mindset makes absolutely zero sense. They just can’t control it, and neither can you, no matter how good your intentions are.

Let’s not end on too depressing of a note though. While you may not be able to wrangle the anxiety out of somebody you know, you can still be there for them, and lend an understanding hand when necessary. When you approach us worriers with an open mind, acknowledging the fact that we can’t help ourselves, you’ll do that much better in helping us deal with our issues.

Featured photo credit: hide_face.jpg/ hotblack via mrg.bz

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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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