nonverbal communication

How Does Stress Affect Your Nonverbal Communication?

Nonverbal communication such as body language makes up the majority of how we communicate to others. From your tone of voice to your posture and the gestures you make, nonverbal communication can be a powerful tool for communicating your intent. But, when used incorrectly, it can distort messages and cause a great deal of harm to your relationships. As such, it is important to understand body language, particularly for those with stress issues such as social anxiety.

When you are struggling with stress, it is possible to project many nonverbal signs without realizing it. Many of these signs can be interpreted in a way that makes you appear unapproachable. Correspondingly, stress can make it more difficult to interpret the body language of others. This can lead to miscommunication, which in turn can lead to more stress and discomfort.

If you are coping with stress issues such as social anxiety disorder (SAD), it is important to understand how stress may be impacting your nonverbal communication and the messages you project. Once you have determined how stress affects you, it is possible to both improve your own nonverbal communication and your ability to read others’. So let’s take a closer look at some of the particular ways stress impacts nonverbal communication and how to address them.

Unapproachable Behaviors

If you are feeling stressed out, chances are you are projecting a lot of behaviors that make it appear like you don’t want to be approached, such as standing at a distance from others, avoiding eye contact, frowning, and using blocks such as phones or drinks to shield yourself from other people. This sort of behavior communicates that you do not want to communicate with others and can prevent you from making new contacts and relationships.

In order to make your nonverbal communication more open and inviting to others, try adopting more welcoming behavior. This can start with simply smiling, making eye contact, leaning toward other speakers, and showing others you are interested such as by nodding in response to what they are saying. Try removing blocks that may make others feel unwelcome, and keep in mind that you can approach others first.


If you are feeling stressed out, it is easy to send nonverbal signals that communicate messages that you did not intend or that may run counter to the messages you are trying to convey. Behaviors such as frowning, crossed arms, fidgeting, or looking away can make you appear aloof, uncomfortable, or as if you want to get away as soon as possible. When these appearances run contrary to your spoken message, it may communicate dishonesty or simply a desire to be away from the person with whom you are communicating. Of course, for those struggling with SAD, these behaviors may be a natural part of their discomfort in social situations.

Stress and social anxiety can easily lead to social isolation; it is particularly important for those struggling with these issues to build positive social behaviors and make meaningful connections. For these individuals, attempting to adopt a natural smile, standing up straight, and making eye contact can go a long way toward appearing more comfortable. Furthermore, learning to perceive the signals you are sending can help you to identify and correct them. Try asking someone you trust what nonverbal signals you appear to be communicating and what you can do to correct them.

The Facial Expressions of Yourself and Others

Being aware of your facial expressions as well as others’ is also important because the face says a lot about an individual’s feelings. This might take extra effort for someone with social anxiety because they often adopt behaviors such as looking down or avoiding eye contact. Try to watch the facial expressions of others and consider how they appear to be feeling. Facial movements such as raised or lowered eyebrows or covering their mouth with their hands tend to be signs of emotion. Also, be aware of your own facial expressions and what they tell people about your emotions.

Practice Makes Perfect for Nonverbal Communication

In order to communicate effectively and build positive relationships with others, it is crucial to understand how stress affects your nonverbal communication and to work to improve your skills. Nonverbal communication is a constantly shifting and flowing experience that requires complete focus and existing in the moment. As a result, the best way to improve is with practice. A good place to start is in a safe environment, either with friends or family or in a safe group of your peers.

Ready to get some social skills training? Get started!

Scroll to Top