by Sarah Fielding: You know what’s overwhelming? Deciphering how we actually, well, feel. But there may be a more obvious sign than just trying to think through the fog…
“Unlikely, unusual, or extreme responses to emotions can be perceived as defense mechanisms,” Dr. Steven Rosenberg, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and behavioral specialist, tells Greatist. Instead of going for the obvious reason of why your brain may be acting in a certain way, try looking at how the body is attempting to cope.
And sometimes it’s not as obvious as you think. Below, we highlight the overlooked connections between our strange bodies and how they signal what we’re really feeling.
1. Poor posture
What it could mean: Tired, bored, or sad.
The overlooked connection: You’ve probably heard that looking someone in the eyes portrays confidence. Well, poor posture and looking down portrays the opposite.
“When we talk to someone and look at their shoes, it shows shyness or fear of socialization,” Dr. Rosenberg says. So sure, you might be tired, bored, or sad — but have you looked into why these emotions are dominating your mood?
What it could mean: Dehydration, eye strain, or bad posture.
The overlooked connection: According to Nicole Micucci, MSW, a primary clinician at Pathway to Hope, depression can actually cause headaches. Frustrating, we know. You might feel like your brain is too overwhelmed and pressing against your forehead. Unfortunately, this mental stress can cause a physical one.
3. Slowed body movements
What it could mean: Tired, bored, or uncertain.
The overlooked connection: “Depression can often cause exhaustion, slowing a person’s body movements,” says Dr. Micucci.
When experiencing depression, it can feel like an expansive weight is on you, being carried around with each movement. This can lead to more sluggish movements as your body adapts to this feeling of weight.
4. Digestive issues
What it could mean: Upset stomach, bad food ingested, or sickness.
The overlooked connection: Dr. Micucci explains that depression and anxiety can directly lead to digestive issues.
If you’ve heard of anxiety diarrhea, well, we have news for you. This physical reaction is frustrating and can accentuate already existing anxiety. If that’s the link for you, taking deep breaths in the moment and drinking a ton of water goes a long way to help it fade.
5. Picking at skin or nails
What it could mean: Dry skin, boredom, or stress.
The overlooked connection: Dr. Micucci explains that when someone’s experiencing anxiety “there may be an increase in physical habits like nail biting or skin/hair picking.”
For many people, when their anxiety flares up, there’ll be an increase in nail-biting or picking. They might not even notice they’re doing it. It’s a habit-cycle that helps create a release from the intense feelings of anxiety that are building up.
If your hands get twitchy during anxiety spells, try keeping something soothing in your pocket.
6. Sweaty palms
What it could mean: Environmental heat, confusion, or stress.
The overlooked connection: A full-blown anxiety attack can bring on a lot of overheating and sweaty palms. When this happens, your body is experiencing the fight-or-flight response — a physiological reaction in response to stress.
“Wringing our hands and wet palms is anxiety. This person has the weight of the world on them,” Dr. Rosenberg says. Taking the time to meditate or even do a few deep breaths can relieve this symptom a bit.
7. Teeth grinding
What it could mean: Stress, poor sleep, or distress.
The overlooked connection: Dr. Micucci tells us that “anger is typically associated with teeth grinding.” You might think of teeth grinding as a part of stress dreams, or a result of poor sleep — and that may still be true, but consider if your stress is actually a result of being unable to process anger.
How can you find a safe way to express that anger so it’s not being taken out on your teeth?
8. Clenched hands
What it could mean: Nervous, confused, or anxious.
The overlooked connection: If you’ve ever clenched your fist to stop yourself from saying something you’ll regret, that’s anger.
Dr. Micucci notes this action can be an automatic reaction to anger your body exhibits. Similarly to teeth grinding, this physical pressure acts as a way to create some sense of grounding within you.
9. Stiff body
What it could mean: Sore muscles, poor posture, or excitement.
The overlooked connection: It’s not just in your shoulders where you carry your stress. It might be all over your body.
“A person standing rigidly with their shoulders up are very tense,” Dr. Rosenberg says. Your body mimics this feeling and tenses up, becoming stiff and tight. Try stretching it out to release some of your physical and mental tension.
Your physical aches might be a message from your brain, trying to give you a clue as to what you’re actually feeling.
We wish it could be more direct, but we get it: deciphering the root cause of our feelings can become downright impossible when our brain is a cloudy concoction of emotions. So, in these trying times, it might be time to work backward and listen to your body.
Sarah Fielding is a New York City-based writer. She covers social justice, mental health, health, travel, relationships, entertainment, fashion, and food.