On a stress scale of 1 to 10 right now, it feels like we’re at a collective… 15. But help is at hand. Suzanne Masefield, Body Mind Analyst AIBMA, helped us manage our Covid-19 stress and is back with useful, practical tips to help us keep ourselves calm, as well as helping those around us do the same.
As Christmas draws near stress levels can increase as demand on finances, time and energy increases. Stress is contagious and when friends and family feel stressed it often spreads to infect everyone. Recognising body language postures, gestures and facial expressions indicating stress can be very useful, as despite any image we’re trying to project these signals betray our true emotional state.
Identifying ‘warning bell’ signs over Christmas can stop the stress bug spreading and you can turn challenges into positive outcomes.
Non-verbal postures, gestures and expressions often reflect a range of freeze, flight or fight stress signs. Here are some stress signals to watch for:
- On the freeze/flight end of the spectrum people exhibit rounded, hunched shoulders almost folding in on themselves, chin tilted down, locked ankles, wringing hands, blink more frequently, perspire more, look flushed or very pale, frequently touch their face, rubbing eyes or avoid eye contact
- Pacifying gestures are often used – putting objects in the mouth, self-touching/hugging, brushing off clothing or stroking hair.
- They use barriers to feel safe (objects/body parts) folding arms, sitting on hands, crossing legs and turning body parts away ie. feet facing the door for a quick exit. They may exhibit micro-expressions of fear/anxiety with tense forehead, lifted brows, tight closed mouth, wide-glazed eyes or sad drooping chin, downturned mouth.
- On the fight end of the spectrum, people may exhibit all of the above including invading others space, fast movements, gritted teeth, clenched jaw, arms and hands, using jerky or very definite larger movements, pointing, hand waving. Alongside facial micro-expressions of anger, disgust or contempt, frowning, glaring, tight or pressed lips, flared or wrinkled nostrils with asymmetrical facial gestures.
Search for at least three consistent signals (clusters and context) to help support your assessment. No single body language sign is a reliable indicator eg. Mum’s arms folded – she may be cold or taking time to internalise her thoughts. Versus – Dad’s arms folded, chin down, eyebrows lowered, wide A-frame stance + stomping around the house most of the morning – clusters of repetitive posture, gestures and expressions over time suggest frustration or anger, high stress levels.
Overcome Conflicts By Leading By Example
In stressful situations, people often hold their breath, breathe shallowly or hyperventilate, closing their posture and cutting down oxygen to the brain. This limits clear thinking, tightens the body, diminishing physical strength and confidence, lowering their ability to manage difficult situations. You need to do the opposite – breathe deeply, open your posture, stay calm and centred.
By stabilising your body language first you’re able to “be” in family situations, by being present you can respond rather than just react. You can then determine whether to offer support, apologise, walk away, stand your ground or mirror their body language to increase trust and rapport. Creating a more relaxed environment with your body language during stressful times calms others and helps you turn things around more effectively
Press Pause to Stabilise Your Foundation
The first step to body language empowerment is awareness, so ‘Check-In’ with yourself at natural stop points during the day (meals, bathroom breaks), then action the following:
Take a Breath: Place hand on stomach, feel feet on the floor, open your posture, stand tall, take 3 slow deep breaths down to your stomach. Practising this regularly increases confidence, calms your whole system, releases pressure build up and develops your ‘Relax’ muscle to use when things get tough.
Open Body Language: Research shows when we use open body movements and gestures (upright posture, head, arms, palms face
up, feet forward) we’re more receptive to others, they warm to us and it can defuse stress as we’re welcoming and non-threatening.
Take a Walk
During heightened stress, go for a short brisk walk to quickly release adrenaline and tension out of your body. If you’re unable to go for a walk go to the bathroom and walk fast on the spot for 1 minute, it works a treat.
Whatever, the situation, when you smile even if it’s only internally, you lift your energy, increasing endorphins, (your happy hormones) lightening your mood, so you’re more able to see humour in situations.
For more information on Suzanne, visit her website The Body Language Company. Calm Your Christmas with Press Pause online, an online meditation and mindfulness programme designed for busy people who want to simply and easily take greater control of their life on even the busiest most stress filled days.