Unconscious signs of stress show up in your daily behavior in more ways than you might realize. Because you spend a large part of each day on autopilot – working, driving, or doing chores – you don’t even notice these behaviors or how they affect you.
You may be exhibiting signs of tension and telling your mind that you are stressed without realizing it — and that matters.
Your physical actions actually have a huge impact on your emotions. Not only do people slump over because they’re sad, but they are more likely to remain sad if they stay slumped over.
Recognizing the physical signs of stress is the first step to eliminating them because it tells your mind that you’re okay.
8 Unconscious Signs of Stress
Here are eight unconscious signs of stress that you may not realize you are experiencing. Throughout the day, look for these signs and work to resolve them to put yourself in a better place emotionally, mentally, and physically.
1) Furrowed Brow
Maybe the sun is just in your eyes or you’re concentrating hard – but a clenched forehead tells your mind that you are tense. Your brow is a muscle like any other, and keeping it tight for long periods is tiring. You may not feel it, but your mind does.
Now and then, when you notice that your forehead is scrunched, relax it!
Enjoy the little bit of relief that you feel. You’ll probably catch yourself doing it all throughout the day. (And, consider investing in a pair of sunglasses to help with outside scrunching.)
2) Clenched Jaw
Have you ever been scared or frustrated and felt your jaw clench shut? You might be doing this during a regular day too.
Some people even grind their teeth which can be very damaging. If you’re having a particularly stressful day, check in on your jaw from time to time and relax it, too.
Clenched muscles in your face often lead to headaches, another symptom of too much stress. So if you find yourself getting headaches more often, this could be a simple fix to a problem you didn’t even realize that you had.
3) Tense Shoulders
I’ve always said that I carry my stress in my shoulders. Whenever I’m on my feet too long or didn’t sleep well the night before, I feel an uncomfortable tension above and between my shoulders. I try rolling my neck and stretching my back, but the pain sometimes just sticks.
Then during a free Tai Chi class, one of the instructors told me to relax my shoulders. I thought they were already relaxed, but I was wrong. They were raised up unconsciously as my “natural posture.” Now, whenever I catch my shoulders raised, I take a deep breath and relax them as I breathe out. Try it. You’ll feel the tension melt away.
4) Shallow Breathing
We don’t usually think about our breath unless we’re holding it, but sometimes we’re holding it unconsciously. Shallow breathing is a common sign of stress and anxiety. Our minds thrive on oxygen, and a lack of it affects our thinking and our emotions.
Even if you don’t feel like your breathing is shallow, take a deep, satisfying breath now and then. Do it whenever you think of it. Try breathing deeply for a few seconds or minutes at a time. You don’t have to fill your lungs, just take in more than the minimum.
Watch how your thinking clears up.
5) Foot & Finger Tapping
Have you ever seen someone jiggle their foot rapidly while they worked on something? It’s usually not intentional, but your body and mind recognize erratic actions like that and respond accordingly. If your body is calm and at rest, your mind feels relaxed and slows down.
If you find yourself tapping away take a deep breath and settle into a comfortable position (with good posture). Just feeling and appearing more relaxed may help you slow down your thoughts and convince yourself that things are easy and under control.
Or, consider how to turn tapping into a positive outlet for your mind and body. Learn how to use the Emotional Freedom Technique where you tap specific points on your body to relieve stress and anxiety.
6) Hair Play
Some people chew on their hair, some people twirl it, and some people pick at their split ends. I’ve even known people to do it in their sleep! This is a sign of a preoccupied mind – similar to chewing on pens or straws.
Besides potentially damaging your hair, this action can distract you from work if you get absorbed (figuratively and literally) in your curls.
7) Unnecessary Eating & Drinking
You’re allowed to eat and drink whenever you want, but if you find yourself doing it instead of whatever you’re supposed to be doing, it can be problematic. Food is comforting, and we sometimes use it to deal with stress without making the connection.
Obviously, this can be bad for your health. If you find yourself raiding the fridge instead of working, try bringing some healthy portable snacks around with you. That way if you really are feeling hungry, you can eat something quick and healthy and get back to it.
8) Other Intentional Distractions
As if we need any help getting distracted with emails and texts going off every few minutes, but we often we avoid responsibility by indulging in distractions as a way to deal with anxiety and stress.
Whether it’s checking social media or doing less important “busy work” – we find all sorts of ways to avoid the things that stress us out.
Silence your phone, and place it out of sight (if your job allows it). Block social media sites on your computer. Create a priority list and see how important the things you’re occupied with really are. The sooner you knock out the stressful stuff, the sooner you can stop stressing about it!
Recognize & Stop Unconscious Signs of Stress
You may think that your brain has full control over your body. But, your body can send signals to your brain and tell it what to think and how to feel. It can produce unconscious signs of stress that tell your mind that it should be on alert, anxious, and nervous. The good news is, you can tell it to stop.
By being able to recognize these unconscious signs of stress, you can notice them and make small adjustments to turn off stress signals — and create a calmer mind.
Life is much more enjoyable when you understand your body and your mind and have some control over both of them.
For more tips on how to take control over your mind and body — download our free ebook. It includes 75 small daily adjustments that can drastically improve your mind, body, and attitude. Or explore our therapy and counseling services to see how you can get support to stop the stress in your life.
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