Not everyone can immediately stop themselves from feeling nervous. It can happen at any moment, even without an apparent stimulus that triggers its occurrence. Nervousness or anxiety can range from being a mere uncomfortable and temporary feeling to downright debilitating. It can show symptoms in various body parts—it is not only in your head.
Many conclude that nervousness is a product of overthinking or lack of confidence. However, as studies on mental health advance, experts find that the cause and dynamic of nervous emotions are way too complex to be dismissed as something insignificant.
To comprehend anxiety and all its discomfort and damage, it is also essential to understand the meaning behind nervous body language.
What is nervous body language?
Nervous body language refers to telltale signs and elements of nonverbal communication implying that a person is nervous. This language is reactive to the adrenaline rush. The more anxious a person becomes, the more apparent their body language will be. While the reactions can sometimes be intense, the body has to undergo the same to release tension.
How does it affect you?
Feeling nervous is a hormonal and physiological reaction to stress. It is a natural occurrence, but when a person experiences it excessively, they may lose control over their mental and physical functions.
A conversation about being nervous can be a matter of life and death. People tend to experience extreme visceral reactions when their nervousness goes haywire. If more people talk about this topic, it will be easier to spread awareness.
Unfortunately, the stigma on mental health deters others from learning more about nervous body language. Not having in-depth learning about nervous body language will ultimately people with mental health disorders access to diagnosis and treatment.
How does your body communicate when you’re afraid?
Understanding nervous body language is key to analyzing the body’s complex ways of processing fear. When a person perceives fear or danger, the brain produces stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to keep the body active.
Every person has different tolerance to fear. Not everybody can have a fight-or-flight response because others freeze or do nothing while reacting to a fear stimulus. In either of the three circumstances, a person should thoroughly understand their body language to respond as healthily as possible.
A complete understanding of the nervous body language should involve familiarizing the signs that people exhibit when experiencing fear.
10 Common nervous habits and how to manage them
There are many signs a person should look for when it comes to nervous habits. Every example can differ in severity and may require a specific procedure to manage its effects.
The list below describes the dangers of each nervous habit and the corresponding measures that concerned individuals can apply to calm a nervous person.
1. Folded arms
Depending on the context, folded or crossed arms can be interpreted as a sign of hostility, disinterest, or nervousness. Regardless of the real meaning behind it, this expression may not be welcome in more formal and conservative events, like job interviews.
Arm crossing per se is not bad. However, it sends the wrong message when you hold the position for a long time or when you do it repeatedly. One solution to correct this habit is to utilize your hand for different purposes. A popular option would be using hand gestures to convey a more straightforward message. Your hands should be freely moving so that your actions would not seem unnatural.
If you do not feel like using your hands during a conversation, do not use them at all. It may be more challenging not to cross your arms but putting your hands on the side or back puts you in a more neutral position. By putting on a friendlier facial expression, you may not appear as nervous or aggressive to others.
2. Showing your back
Other people can easily pick up that you are nervous or uncomfortable when you cannot even face them. To others, it can even signal that you are disinterested in them. When interacting physically, people need to face each other directly to form a connection.
For others, the fear or discomfort of facing others may be caused by being unfamiliar with the other party. To resolve this problem, a person may spend more effort knowing the other part or audience. Being familiar with someone could give a nervous person ideas about how to react to them.
If you feel too self-conscious, you can draw attention to another object. For example, if you are reporting, redirect the audience’s look at the presentation. However, this tip applies to specific circumstances only.
Facing the audience or the people you communicate with is a sign of self-confidence. On the other hand, showing your back often may signify that you do not believe in yourself as much. Skill success has helpful tips to boost self-confidence that you can try.
3. Knuckle cracking
Cracking knuckles is a prevalent nervous tic, but to others, it can be misread as an act of arrogance. A person can look aggressive while cracking knuckles. To some extent, it may look like you are taunting someone to get into a fist fight with you.
From a medical perspective, knuckle cracking is generally neither good nor bad. However, it can be addictive. That is why other people tend to overdo it. Cracking knuckles can accidentally cause ligament injuries around the joint on rare occasions. The more you apply pressure on your hands, the more likely you will pull a finger.
Stopping this habit is a matter of self-discipline. Similar to arm crossing, you may use your hands to express gestures. Utilize your fingers to make a message clearer to your listener.
Like other nervous tics, cracking knuckles is a manifestation of stress. To avoid using your fingers to destress, use tools instead. Many recommend using fidget cubes and stress balls because they are affordable and effective.
4. Bad upper body posture
Your upper body is an obvious indicator of your confidence level. If you hunch your back, the rest of your upper body will look weak and disengaged. If you are trying to convince someone, you will have a hard time doing so because you may not seem sincere and empowered.
Even if you are feeling nervous, your body posture can hide it. The trick is drawing attention to your face. If you stand straight and look sharp, you will appear more reliable and responsible. Holding your body this way would create better impressions with other people.
Body posture is an essential part of your improvement towards a more confident self. Keep your shoulders relaxed but firm. Do not look too high or too low. Maintain eye level with people you wish to converse with.
5. Avoiding eye contact
Avoiding eye contact is probably the most common nervous. Eye contact anxiety can root in natural shyness and lack of confidence. People with mental health disorders may avoid eye contact with others because uncomfortable and confused when interacting with others.
Eye contact anxiety can be tricky to resolve. If you have this, dedicate time and effort to repeatedly attempt looking at someone without feeling overly conscious or nervous.
The strength and willingness not to avoid eye contact with another person should be internally motivated. You must step out of your comfort zone and allow others to enter your personal space.
If you are having a hard time convincing yourself to do this, listen to words of affirmation to boost your self-confidence.
6. Playing with hair
Playing with one’s hair, especially among adults, is among the indicative signs of nervousness. It could be a way to distract oneself from directly handling the matter that makes a person sensitive or nervous.
This habit does not create a positive impression among professionals. To more uptight and conservative individuals, playing with one’s hair is one of the signs of immaturity and lack of focus.
Choose productive distractions that can take your mind away from your hair. Self-soothing behaviors that may help with this tic include arts and crafts, meditation, and yoga.
Be careful not to play with your hair too much. It will be dangerous if this nervous tic becomes uncontrollable. Excessively playing with one’s hair could be one of the earlier signs of trichotillomania.
7. Rushing and pacing
While reporting or hosting, rushing and pacing are some signs that you are not confident and comfortable about what you are doing. Refrain from doing this. While it is understandable that you feel overwhelmed, doing a random movement every now and then will not fix things.
The best way to hide your nervousness would be to stand straight. Keep your shoulders looking sharp. Focus only on the essential and not on other things. You cannot afford to be more distracted than you already are.
Find a position that you are comfortable in. If you need to stand, stand on both feet. You look more stable if your feet are flat on the ground.
If you can sit, rest your shoulders on the chair. Be stagnant but try your best not to be stiff.
8. Nail biting
Nail biting expresses high emotional and mental stress. At all costs, do not show this to others. Nail biting is both gruesome and worrisome.
Nails are not the most hygienic part of the body. The nails house germs that you may ingest as you chip the nails. It is also worrisome because you will injure yourself if you bite too much of your nails.
There are a handful of tricks to manage this problem. One of which is when you are stressed, keep your nails away from your mouth. You may put your hands in your pocket. This gesture can even look good and professional.
Another tip would be to apply a bitter-tasting nail polish. Humans have a natural aversion to the bitter taste. Maybe you can prevent yourself from biting your nails because of the awful flavor of the nail polish.
9. Changing tones
Your voice can be a strong indicator of nervousness. It can manifest unnecessarily ending sentences with an upward inflection. When you do this repetitively, a conversation may not sound as natural. It can upset other people because you may not appear serious.
You could manage your tone by talking slower. By talking slower, you can also have better control of your breathing. If you take a deep breath between sentences, you can also avoid squeaking and making other unnecessary sounds.
Talking and performing deep breaths could also calm your emotions. It is an important point because you will not be overwhelmed by your feelings.
Once you are more confident, engage in public speaking. It can tremendously help you with intonations and being intentional with your words.
10. Nodding too much
Nodding too much is another example of a nervous tic. Attentive nodding expresses interest in another party and can be accounted as a common sign of respect. However, overly bopping your head can look distracting and rude.
Nodding should not be a childish gesture for professionals. If you nod to others, try to do it in a subtle way. For example, you can slowly shift your head but not resort to a full dip. Nodding and bowing are two different things, and they serve different purposes.
Be more intentional with every bow. Engage the rest of your upper body to avoid overly focusing on your head. You may raise one arm as a sign of agreement or speak your thoughts directly.
Recommended courses from Skill Success
Skill Success is an e-library of video-based courses for everyone. When it comes to nervous body language, we have an array of recommendations that can help bolster your confidence despite the challenges of losing emotional control due to being too anxious.
Here are five courses we specially handpicked for you:
You can feel nervous anywhere—even in places where you need to be calm and productive, like the workplace. 43 to 56% of workers say that anxiety affects their work performance, corporate relationships, and work quality.
Are you having trouble understanding your nervous body language and managing your nervousness? This short-term Skill Success course will be perfect for you!
Body Language In The Workplace is a one-hour and a half webinar that will teach you how to interact with clients, co-workers, and superiors. It has easy-to-follow tips that can help a nervous person feel more confident about fighting their inner demons.
Working from home is excellent; however, being cooped in the same four-cornered room has made many individuals anxious and lose focus. Some employees even suffered to the point that their confidence plummeted.
Present Confidently From Your Home Office is a master class designed for work from home workers. It contains lessons that will help one become a better remote communicator. Watch out for recommendations on techniques and tools to use in different virtual endeavors!
Your presentation and communication skills will never be the same again. Sign up for this course to overcome nervousness and handle remote social situations better.
Talking in public is a common panic attack trigger. However, it could also be a therapeutic activity for anxious people. Constant practice with medical and psychological support could be effective in conquering anxiety.
Conquer Your Fear Of Public Speaking With Rule The Room! is a simplified program for entrepreneurs, instructors, project managers, sales professionals, and other people who want to improve their public speaking skills.
This course contains comprehensive lessons on creating impactful presentations that seem effortless. The course author also divided the webinar into five parts to make each lesson easier to absorb and remember.
Dr. Albert Mehrabian concluded that 93% of effective message relay is based on nonverbal communication. Nonverbal cues such as appropriate hand gestures, positive facial expression, and good posture make a communicator more effective in relaying messages.
Public Speaking And Presentations Body Language: Professional Skills is a condensed cheat sheet for presenters and managers to impress clients and higher-ups. It packs professional hacks and lessons that will command attention during reports and other formal events. Finishing this webinar will turn any professional into a master communicator.
Click the button below to attend a class that will expand your communication-based skill sets.
Even if you are an experienced communicator, there are still times when the nerves get to you. It is impossible not to feel uncomfortable, especially when talking to a large crowd.
Public Speaking And Presentations For Pros is a specialized program for professionals. It contains industry secrets top communicators use daily.
Non-professionals can also undertake this course to upgrade their skills to the next level. The instructions were purposely beginner-friendly to accommodate a wider audience.
You will always find new things to learn. Do not close your mind against fresh challenges to better ways to use your voice.
One step at a time
Knowing your nervous body language is a challenge but a purposeful movement. It is one of the most critical steps toward understanding your emotions and reclaiming control over your body. Pay close attention to what your body and mind are saying. You may find a voice that can calm your unending nervousness.
Studying the functions and consequences of nervous body language is a form of self-love. By doing so, you are taking baby steps towards a more calm and stable mental health.
If you do not see the results you wanted, do not despair. It is unfair to compare yourself to others because every person has a special pace. Attune to your body language and you will instinctively find better ways to handle every stressful situation.