Anxiety, Non-Verbal Communication, & Biomechanics
(Reading time 5 min, 23 sec)
Can you address your anxieties with biomechanics? We make the argument that you can. By grappling with your biomechanical inefficiencies, and improving your nonverbal communication, you can make your body more adaptable to stress in the environment.
One of the most critical aspects about health and movement that gets almost completely overlooked is the effect that non-verbal communication (NVC) has on your biomechanics. The lack of attention NVC gets as it relates to optimizing health is surprising, considering that NVC is said to make up 60-65% of all interpersonal communication . This would suggest that there is an entire aspect of bodily movement that is being missed in accounting for the dysfunctions on the human body, and especially in regards to addressing stress and anxiety.
By and large, NVC has mostly been studied through the lens of cognitive and neuroscience with specific emphasis on emotion. Body language such as facial tics, foot tapping, averting eye contact, crossed arms, pursed lips, furrowed eyebrow ridges, rounded shoulders, and a whole host of other physical manifestations that constitute NVC is generally posed by these studies as being a part of a person's emotional state. In other words, the approach is presented as a one way street where emotions are the cause of the physical reactions we see.
Certainly, there is ample reasoning behind this perspective, with tons of research that's been done over half a century — some of which is cited here in this article. Rather than beating a dead horse with the emotional components of NVC, we think it's highly important not to overlook the biomechanical components of body language when discussing human psychology and behavior.
I know something like this may be counterintuitive to most. Unless it directly relates to your job, like a poker player trying not to give off "tells" at a poker table, you probably aren't looking to address your NVC on a daily basis. The main goal of this article is to demonstrate that addressing your NVC and body language is actually a vital piece of the puzzle if you're looking to get out of patterns of anxiety and stress, and become more resilient on both a physiological and psychological level.
What do we know about NVC?
American author, and international bestseller Joe Navarro in his book What Every BODY is Saying provides one of the most comprehensive texts on the hidden meanings and messages behind NVC. Through the recounting of his former experiences as an FBI Agent, he demonstrates how reading body language at a high level requires sufficient observational and reading skills. But as he also points out, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of non-verbal cues that we instinctively pick up on (and give off ourselves) every single day in our daily interactions with people, even if we don't consciously process them. The fact of the matter is that reading body language and non-verbal cues is a fundamental part of our everyday lives.
The reason our NVC happens so fluidly, and with little to no conscious thought, is because it operates in a part of our brain called the limbic system. Rather than go into the complicated neuroscience and structures of the brain that you can find videos on YouTube, the most important takeaway for the sake of the topic of this article is that the limbic system operates on a mostly subconscious level. Referred to as the "mammalian brain" , the limbic system is where the "fight, flight, freeze" response is hardwired, and is a survival mechanism of many species to respond adequately to nature's stressors.
The way our brains are wired has been an object of study for decades. One thing is clear, whether an Ice Age megafauna, or an angry boss in the office, the limbic system evolved to respond in identical ways using the same circuits as our prehistoric ancestors. Stressful situations elicit physiological responses. And if we accept the current literature on neuroception (defined as your innate ability to perceive dangerous situations), then we must also acknowledge that neuroception precedes cognition . In other words, our sense for danger and the corresponding physiological responses happens before we fully realize it cognitively in many cases.
So what's our point here? If you are an anxious person, you are probably not putting enough cognitive effort to addressing your stress and minimizing your nonverbal reactions. But there are actionable things you can do to resolve this! Now let's continue.
Stress and Anxiety - What Can You Really Do?
Anxiety and stress are an increasingly talked about subject matters in today's current mental health climate. While many go about dealing with this issue through the angle of cognitive and behavioral therapy, mechanical approaches have barely been considered as a solution the problem.
Mostly, the body's importance in relation to anxiety and stress gets simplified to promoting "adequate exercise" to improve one's psychology, or to "stand up straight" to improve confidence. Indeed, while posture and movement can have a positive effect on mental health, evidenced by multiple studies [4,5,6], the question we should be asking is how deep do these solutions go?
One of the observations we've made at Functional Patterns (FP) is that when you correct somebody's biomechanics, their attitudes, behaviors, and response to stressors come along with those changes. While this could be chalked up to the previous point about adequate exercise, the protocols we recommend are quite different from the typical programs that have been studied.
How does something like this happen then? Does making mechanical changes to the body create the necessary stimuli to facilitate less stress and anxiety?
It's hard to say for certain, but with the most recent studies into mechanobiology, we are getting a clear picture into just how deeply rooted your biomechanics goes.
From the Outside to Inside - Modifying the Cells with Movement
"The [cellular] connections are linked through a tensegrity geometry of the entire body... changing in response to the cell's activity, the body's activity.... and the condition of the [extracellular] matrix itself"  — Thomas Myers
Times are changing. With new research into tensegrity (and microtensegrity) [7,8,9], our understanding of the cellular environment and its functions has grown significantly. Scientists have realized that the cells aren't just floating in a mucous that get stimulated into actions through chemical stimuli (called chemoregulation). In addition to chemoregulation, we can now add cellular mechanoregulation to our understanding of cell function.
From the collagen network down to the microtubules within the cells— the linkage between movement and the cellular health is becoming apparent. Connections via microfilaments down into the nuclear genes have the potential to alter epigenetic function . The mechanoregulatory functions extend to literally every cell in your body. Furthermore this is often an "outside-in" feedback loop, meaning the mechanical environment outside the cell can affect how the cell functions on the inside .
What are the implications here? Your movement affects your cellular health down to the genetic level, and even superimposes how chemicals are regulated within those cells. In other words, the precision of your mechanics is the bedrock of your mental health. The better your mechanical function, the more apt you'll be to withstand stress and the short term chemical responses and anxiety from a psychological approach, which is important, the question we ask is whether people have been going about it at the wrong angle. At Functional Patterns, we tackle this problem using a first principles approach, and based upon the results we are getting with thousands of people around the world, there may be something to be said for making biomechanics a priority in addressing stress and anxiety.
The FP Solution
In order to improve health in any regard, it's best to consider the organism first and foremost. This is a basic principle Functional Patterns was founded on, which is why we hold Standing, Walking, Running, and Throwing as the four most important movements to master for your health; known as the FP Big 4. Not only does mastering these motions improve your general movement, but as we've demonstrated with the previous research, having a strong functional baseline rooted in your evolutionary characteristics is paramount to addressing your stress and anxiety.
Having set out to codify the human movement blueprint, we let the results speak for themselves. If you're looking to get your grips on your anxiety, stress, mental health, and poor non-verbal communication; consider giving Functional Patterns a try. While it may take a little commitment on your part before these movements become second nature, the long term impact that it may have on your physical and mental health shouldn't be taken for granted. By addressing your nonverbal communication with FP training, you set the baseline for your brain chemistry by mechanizing your body. With the the bodily changes you will make, you can build the foundation to be an adaptive and resilient human to anxiety and stress.
Until next time, this is Functional Patterns reminding you to Train Intentionally, Not Habitually.