Redirecting Nervous Energy

Mike is a thirty-something corporate player who is plagued by anxiety. “I have so much on my plate on any given day, I need to continuously evaluate and reprioritize what's been done, what's being done, and what needs to be done by the close of business. Some people are naturally suited for that kind of stress. I'm not. I can literally feel when my blood pressure starts rising, and that makes me tense in my shoulders and my neck. I have to get up and pace until I feel like I can breathe a little more easily.”

Stress comes knocking on everyone's door at some point, whether you're a big cheese in the office or a stay-at-home mom. As Mike mentioned, some people find that stress can be a positive, driving force; it helps them to focus and get things done. Other folks don't react as well to life's pressures. And as you've read throughout this chapter, anxiety can exhibit itself in a variety of body movements.

There are many ways to manage stress and to reduce its physical manifestations (such as fidgeting, pacing, and wringing the hands). The key is to take that nervous energy and find some way to use it. Exercise, for example, has several benefits for the high-strung man or woman:

  • Pent-up energy is put to good use, either by competing with teammates (in a game of touch football, for example) or with yourself (trying to beat your best time for running a mile).

  • Exercise should theoretically tire your body, taking the edge off anxiety and helping you to sleep more soundly, which also helps to reduce stress.

  • Endorphins released during sustained physical activity give you a feeling of euphoria, which helps to dull nervousness.

  • Experts also recommend yoga, meditation, and martial arts for refocusing negative emotions into positive visions of how your life can be. If these options sound a little too New Agey for you, don't despair. Find an activity that you enjoy (it could be knitting, sailing, writing, gardening, woodworking, swimming) and throw yourself into it. If you don't know much about your chosen hobby, learn everything you can about it. No matter how busy and harried you feel at work or at home, redirecting some of your focus to an outside interest will help to “split” that nervous energy and soothe your anxiety. Your body language will reflect your new state of mind. You'll relax those clenched fists, stop the incessant tapping of your feet, and generally appear to be more at ease in the world. In turn, people will view you as an approachable human being instead of a walking bundle of nerves, and you'll reap the benefits of more meaningful relationships with coworkers, friends, and family members.

    Keep in mind that nervous energy isn't necessarily a bad thing; many people do their best work when they're under the pressure of a deadline or when they're inundated with tasks. However, when your body language is saying to others “Stay away from me or I'll [cry/scream/run away],” then it's time to find a different way to deal with pressure so that your nonverbal communication sends a more positive message.

    Your body language is usually a major part of the first impression that you make on other people. Take a good look at your nervous habits and ask yourself whether others see you as someone on the verge of a breakdown or someone who has everything under control. Learn to relax and keep your anxious movements to a minimum, but also remember that other nervous fidgeters and twitchers may never change their behaviors. No matter which emotions you're dealing with from other people, try your best to react to them with calm body language. Putting an anxious person at ease with your own nonverbal communication could have a direct positive influence on your life, if that other person (such as your boss or your spouse) happens to have some measure of control over your happiness (which, honestly, is one of the most practical uses of learning about body language).

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