Advertising
Advertising

How to Keep Your Mental Boat Afloat

How to Keep Your Mental Boat Afloat

    In March 2011 I had my first anxiety attack. It was gross. It was scary. It was completely unpleasant.

    But the worst part? My doctor decided that I needed medication in order to function. Highly addictive medication, that is.

    I used the happy pills for about a week before throwing them out the proverbial window and taking the following risks:

    1. I got a new doctor (duh!)
    2. I quit my stressful, micromanaged job (sweet relief!)
    3. I decided to move to Paris (Oui, oui)

    At my first appointment with my newfangled holistic doctor (we’ll call him Dr.Happy), he handed me some pearls of wisdom on which I have entirely based my well-being (and this blog post). This is what he said:

    Advertising

    “The healthiest people do two things differently. First, they know when something is off. And second, they know what to do in order to fix it.”

    Dr. Happy knew what he was talking about. With those words, he changed the entire direction of my life. I can now say that I’ve learned how to recognize when my mental boat is a-rockin’, and I’ve spent the last 15 months collecting the tools needed to find my equilibrium after a storm. Now, I’m here to share my pearls of wisdom with you.

    STEP ONE:  How to Tell if Your Mental Boat is Rockin’

    So how can you tell that your life is out of whack? Simple. Ask yourself the following question:

    Is this how I want to feel?

    If the answer isn’t, “Hell yeah! I love feeling like this!”, then you’re in good company. Please continue to step two.

    Advertising

    STEP TWO: How to Get Back to a Blissful Mental State

    My doctor recommended “taking time for yourself”.

    “Take time for myself?” I thought, “What kind of woo woo crap is that?”

    As it turns out, taking time for yourself can come in the following forms:

    1. Practicing self-compassion
    2. Partaking in stress + anxiety reducing activities
    3. Finding flow
    4. Investing regularly in small pleasures

    Practicing self-compassion is a fancy way of saying “be nice to yourself”. Let yourself indulge in some reality TV, a bowl of ice cream, or skip your work-out without letting the devil on your shoulder tell you how lazy and pathetic you are.

    This doesn’t mean that you should do these things all the time. Of course not. However, when your self-control muscle is tired, give it a break!

    Advertising

    Partaking in stress + anxiety reducing activities comes in a variety of forms. My favorites are meditation, jogging, and taking a nice hot shower. You can also spend 10 minutes writing, sign up for a class, or watch the clouds pass in the summer sky (I spent hours doing this during my June 2011 Facebook hiatus).

    Finding flow is one of my favorite concepts. When you are in a state of flow (or in the zone) time passes quickly. When you’re in flow, you’re working with your greatest strengths.

    The formula for flow is simple: find something that you like to do and that also challenges you. Don’t make it too challenging, or you’ll create anxiety. Likewise, an activity that you enjoy but that is too easy will make you bored.

    For more on flow, check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TEDx talk (he discovered it, after all).

    Investing regularly in small pleasures involves just that: spending small amounts of money (under $10) on things that make you happy.

    Advertising

    I regularly visit the local coffee shop for an iced tea, buy greeting cards to send to friends, grab a drink on a restaurant terrace, and buy books for my Kindle.

    STEP THREE: Your Next Step

    Now that you’ve got some fancy and fun ways to keep a cool head, grab a piece of paper and jot down 20 more ways that you could prepare yourself for a mental shit show. This list will become your tool box. Practice one of these activities tonight… and another one tomorrow morning! Remember: preventative care is better than a band-aid after battle!

    (Photo credit: Flying Life Preserver via Shutterstock)

    More by this author

    45 Things You Can Do to Get Happy No Matter Where You Are 3 Ways to Earn an Extra $500 on the Side How to Start a Business before Dinnertime Is the glass half empty or half full? Are You a Youthful Optimist or a Learned Pessimist? 21 Lessons from an Accidental Entrepreneur

    Trending in Communication

    1 7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language 2 How to Apologize When You Have Made a Mistake 3 7 Science-Backed Books About Spirituality That Will Change Your Life 4 20 Things Life Is Too Short to Worry About 5 How to Find Inner Peace and Lasting Happiness

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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]

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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]

    Advertising

    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

    Read Next