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June 24, 2024

Body Language under Stress

The Stress Meter
You’re sitting alone inside your car. You’re driving it back to your home. The long main road of your city is totally empty at midnight. You don’t at all need to need to stop at red light, shift gears and apply breaks frequently. Hence, you’re taking the liberty to drive faster than normal. To fully and freely enjoy this small trip back to your home, you’re playing a nice song inside your car.

Perhaps, this is the first time you’re enjoying the emptiness of the road after years. Without any cars, motorcycles and public transport vehicles moving on the roads, you’re feeling as if you’re the king or the queen of the road. Your whole body is relaxed and posture is slumped. You’re breathing at a normal rate. You’re tapping fingers to the musical bits on the soft steering wheel.

After driving a few kilometers, you arrive a few meters before a spot where a narrow road joins to the main road. As you're certain that the narrow road is hardly used by drivers and riders, you just keep on driving carelessly. Without blowing the horn, a motorcyclist starts approaching towards you rapidly on the same narrow road. For now, you can see only the bright headlights of the vehicle.

The motorcyclist suddenly comes very close to your car before taking a sharp turn on the main road. To avoid an accident, you quickly turn the car in the opposite direction and apply breaks. The motorcycle simply disappears in darkness and you feel trapped inside your own car with boiling blood. You’re no longer the same person as you were, just a very few moments ago. Aren’t you?

Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) instantly prepares your whole body for handling the emergency with physical force. Your breathing rate touches the ceiling. Your heart starts beating faster than it normally does. Your eyes almost fall out of their sockets. Muscles of your hands and legs get tighter. Your belly gets pulled inside. Overall, you become very tense and disturbed.


You just can’t rapidly chase the motorcyclist, stop him in the road and punish for his great mistake. However, you loose your composure and start cursing the motorcyclist who simply took off like a bullet without an apology. You’re extremely angry at the moment and it’s totally valid. By upsetting you, the frightening uncertainty has just swiftly passed you by. Didn’t it?

After a few minutes, you start calming down slowly with your mouth running tirelessly against the reckless motorcyclist. You reach home and go asleep. An episode of extreme anger ends within hours. You’re totally normal at the next morning. Thank a lot to your Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) that works for calming you down and relaxing your entire body.

Our brain partly works as a pattern finding machine that looks for certainty or predictability. Along with the same, it tries to find, devise or create solutions for different issues, problems and challenges to stay in control, as much as possible. Unlike short lasting episodes of anger or fear, stress is a subconscious response against the feeling or perception of both uncertainty or unpredictability and lack of control.

If you simply assume that any kind of stress is bad but you’re totally wrong. Actually, mild stress or a short lasting episode of stress is good for performance. We become stimulated or alert and our senses become hyper receptive to get as much as information from surrounding. The mild or short lasting episode of stress silently motivates and prepares us to perform better. Such stress is good!

Matter of fact is that a normal level of the stress inducing hormone called as cortisol helps us in staying alert and focused in the morning after walking away from bed. On the contrary, secretion of cortisol gets lower to allow the whole body to relax, repair and rejuvenate during the night. Our body silently follows a routine cycle of both low and normal levels of cortisol secretion.

Stress: Severity or long duration is problematic.

The problem caused by stress is due to its severity or long duration. It changes the chemistry of blood with higher levels of cortisol and glucose. Brain prepares the whole body for either fighting with or running away from the issue, problem and challenge. However, it remains unused due to not working on or acting upon in absence of a solution, strategy or plan.

It’s almost certain or predictable that if you see a lion approaching you on a grassy plain then you start running away from it in fear to save your life. You simply can’t control the lion but you can definitely act upon a survival solution. You know or you’ve learned how to save your precious life with certainty and running away is in your total control at the moment. Isn’t it?

Unlike an actual physical situation that activates either fight or flight reaction, we’ve not yet perfectly evolved or developed in handling non-physical or psychological issues, problems and challenges due to uncertainty or unpredictability and lack of control. Even just thinking about such tricky or complicated situation can lead to stress.

Today's world presents a lot of such issues, problems and challenges that induce the feeling of uncertainty or unpredictability (of an outcome) and lack of control over life. Long traffic jams, inability to pay mortgage (loan) on time, threatened employment/job, crisis in relations, unhealthy competition or work pressure are some of them.

Being under mental stress for over a long time makes you feel as if a long and strong python has tightly wrapped itself around your whole body. The presence of higher level of cortisol and glucose in blood makes it thicker and blood pressure is increased above the normal level. Lungs and heart start working above their normal levels.


Identifying the signs or symptoms of a severe or a prolonged episode of stress can be done by not only observing, analyzing or reading the body language but also carefully studying the social, emotional and cognitive behaviors of a person. The insights given below will definitely help you in doing the same.

1) Basically, any kind of stress makes posture stiff or tense. Hyper vigilance and restlessness can be observed in body movements. However, posture of a severely stressed person can appear saggy and/or closed due to utter helplessness or despair. Due to a severe or a prolonged episode of stress, some people go into depression due to inability to manage it effectively.

2) A stressed person can be seen breathing uncomfortably, exhaling breath rapidly or blowing air through mouth. Also, the location of breathing changes from belly to chest to pump in as much as oxygen from the air. Additionally, such person can be seen engaged in excessive and prolonged self-comforting, self-soothing or pacifying touches.

3) Severe, extreme or sustained stress negatively affects logical reasoning or rational thinking. A stressed person shows a greater amount of sensitivity to emotional cues in words, pictures or images and reacts to them emotionally or impatiently than responding thoughtfully or patiently. Such person gets irritated or hurt easily.

4) A stressed person shows inaccuracy while rapidly accessing or evaluating emotional cues on faces on other people. Surprisingly, such person can inaccurately evaluate a two year old child making a direct eye contact with her with downward face as ‘Anger’ although it’s a baseline or normal eye contact, look or gaze of the child.

5) Letting frustration out or being aggressive can be seen at a greater frequency (or more than normal) in the person who’re already aggressive or dominating in nature. In general, the level of empathy, kindness or compassion gets decreased in the person who is going through a severe or a prolonged episode of stress.

6) A stressed person feels a great amount of difficulty in learning new things or lessons (from others or from her own experiences). Such person can’t shift to new strategies or think differently. Also, such person starts behaving as if what was taught or learned has been partially or completely forgotten.

7) When it comes to working, a severely stressed person can neither stay focused on the tasks in her hands at present nor switch between them as easily or effortlessly as it normal does. Also, such person makes unusual mistakes while talking, working, performing and delivering tasks.

8) Of course, a stressed person can’t sleep calmly at night due to abnormally high levels of cortisol and glucose in her blood. The lack of sleep and mental relaxation makes the person to act, move, work, behave and express abnormally. Stress feeds to foolishness!

9) A severe or chronically stressed individual doesn't seem to enjoy what she is doing, eating, working on or having in her life. Such person appears to lack her normal level of energy or enthusiasm. The person appears fatigued or exhausted.

10) A severe or chronically stressed individual can't judge, access or evaluate risks more accurately or efficiently that ultimately leads to recklessness or rashness. Also, such person behaves more selfishly.

Did you have a good sleep last night?

[#MENTAL Climate Change: Not just a person issue, problem or challenge but the physical environment can also be the source of stress, anxiety, distress and depression. No matter how harder we try to ignore it, it leaves a deeper and far fetching impact on our subconscious mind.

This is clearly evident and prevalent in today's world in which almost entire population is experiencing the climate change, witnessing terrifying natural disasters and facing the severe changes in climatic conditions in every part of the globe.

Morover, severe and frequent heat waves due to global warming alone can greatly affect the normal functioning of the whole brain, only for the worst. It can lead to aggression, impulsiveness or dullness.]

Related Articles:
1) Body Language in Depression 2) Basic body responses in stressful situations 3) Turtle Effect: Body response under threat 4) Fear Factor 5) Surprise vs Startle Reflex 6) Amygdala Hijack: Irrational Physical Reactions 7) Chicken and Egg Paradox 8) The Body Seeking Comfort

2 comments:

  1. Excellent though and well written. Great article

    ReplyDelete
  2. Could not agree more with the details on stress in your article. Nice read!

    ReplyDelete

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