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Put a Poker Face on Silent Stress

Avoid nonverbal cues that feed your anxiety

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in Workplace Communication

You may work out at a gym or do yoga to relieve stress. But here’s another, often overlooked, way to calm down: Modify your body language.

You can stay cool and lower your heart rate by taming your gestures, facial expressions and other nonverbal behaviors. Whenever you start wiggling your feet nervously or grimacing tightly when you’re displeased, you add tension.

Don’t assume such acts are involuntary. In fact, you can regulate how you behave by choosing to take a break, splash water on your face, take a short walk, tense and relax your muscles or do mental relaxation exercises.

Here are three types of nonverbal signals to avoid:

“Disgust flashes.” When you’re annoyed, you need not let everyone in the room know. It’s better to radiate an unflappable professionalism, an outwardly pleasant manner that does not make people dread talking to you.

Examples of “disgust flashes” include clicking your tongue, sighing, grimacing or kicking the air. Such behavior can help you communicate dismay or disapproval, but the cost is appearing petty and immature.

What’s worse, you may underestimate how your nonverbal cues affect your employees. They may fear leveling with you or bringing bad news if you’re going to respond with a silent outburst.

Type A overload. While it’s fine to think and talk fast, don’t get carried away. Impatience is never a virtue when you’re trying to reduce stress.

Too much frenzy can lead to even more aimless agitation. For instance, you might start pushing elevator buttons that are already lit, flailing your arms helplessly or rushing needlessly down a hall when simply walking will work just as well.

Facial meltdown. Research shows there are 80 muscles of the face that can make more than 7,000 different expressions. Pick yours wisely.

Don’t snicker, scowl or roll your eyes. Whenever you feel exasperated, take a private moment to drop your jaw, yawn and force a smile.

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