What Your Body Language Says About Your Anxiety Level, According To Science

Words are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to communicating with each other, and sometimes, our body language is a more affirmative indicator of our true feelings towards a situation or person. Although many of us don't often deliberately stop and think about the signals we're giving off, some do — and indeed, according to new research, the body language of anxious people is one of those cases. Subtle hand gestures, eye-contact and posture make up a huge part of our daily communication and help guide us through a myriad of human situations, but new research shows that if you're particularly fine-tuned to the micro-expressions of those around you, it may go some way in explaining the state of your mental health.

Science of Us reports that a new study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences has concluded that those of us who are thinking about our gesticulations and body language when talking to others are more likely to possess an anxious and neurotic temperament. The study focused on 90 pairs of college students who were filmed having a five-minute chat with a stranger about any topic of their choosing, the aim of which was to measure “the correspondence between self-reported recall of behaviors and coding of specific behaviors based on observation of interactions."


After they were done talking, the two conversation partners were taken to separate rooms and asked to recall their body language from memory: The frequency of their nods and smiles, how often they made eye contact and touched their own arms and head, were recorded in estimates. The participants were also asked to fill out questionnaires assessing their ability to express their emotions as well as analyse the emotions of others, as well as how they thought they picked up on their surroundings during the conversations.


Trained study leaders then compared the footage of the students' communicating with the estimates of their body language counts and looked at how accurate their analysis of themselves was.

Overall, it became clear that people who remembered their body language were more perceptive of the emotions of others — especially anger — but it was these same people that were also considered more anxious, nervous and closed-off than the others. This group also tended to have higher public self-awareness, and were more conscious about they appear to the outside world.


The researchers concluded that the results of the study "paint a portrait of a person with high [nonverbal self-accuracy] as anxious, highly self-aware of his/her own mannerisms"; this person may also be "especially sensitive to interpersonal cues of disapporval, possibly consistent with their greater neuroticism and negativity." So, in short, if you're hyperaware of your own physical mannerisms, you're probably a little anxious or neurotic.

Then again, it's only the people who know they suffer with anxiety that can say for certain whether or not this hypothesis holds true for them. And it's hard to say for certain whether or not asking a group of people (some of whom were already anxious) how well they remembered their body language from a recorded conversation with a stranger, made them more or less on edge than usual. But, as anyone with mental health issues can tell you, there's no one-size-fits-all definition to having anxiety, and it's sometimes really hard to explain that to someone who's never experienced it. If this study can go some way into providing an insight into the behaviors of those who know they're anxious, however, then it will have helped some people, and that's pretty cool.

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