Your Body’s Most Embarrassing Nervous Reactions and How to Make Them Stop
Here’s why your voice quivers, your cheeks flush, and your hands shake—and what you can do about it.
Why do you blush?
If you're blushing as the result of an emotional stressor, such as anxiety, fear, or embarrassment (as opposed to a physical one, such as heat), then blame your body's fight-or-flight adrenaline rush. “[The release of hormones] boosts circulation, which increases blood flow to your face,” Michael Gnatt, MD, an internist at Johns Hopkins Community Physicians, told Real Simple. And because your face has a high density of tiny blood vessels that sit close to the surface of your skin, that increase in circulation is especially visible. There's also a more personable explanation for the reaction: blushing is a non-verbal, irrepressible way of apologizing for our behavior. In other words, it says, "I'm sorry," even when we're too stubborn to say it ourselves.
How to stop yourself from blushing
A cold compress or glass of ice water can help constrict blood vessels, which in turn will reduce facial redness. But if you, um, can't mess with ice cubes during your work presentation, take comfort in the fact that you're probably not as red as you imagine. And good news: One study found that people are likely to judge others as more trustworthy when those people are blushing. (Here are other habits you have that make people trust you). The results of another experiment suggest that people who blush easily are more generous and altruistic than those who don't.
Why does your voice shake?
A quivery voice is yet another one of your body’s fight-or-flight reactions. “It’s all related to your vocal cords, which are regulated by the vagus nerve,” Andrew Ordon, MD, said on The Doctors. “The vagus nerve has a ton of connections in your brain, including the amygdala, which is involved with reacting to emotions and situations. The vagus nerve gets stimulated and the vocal cords and the muscles in your neck that tense the vocal cords go through a bit of a spasm.” The result: limited control over your own voice.
How to stop a quivering voice
To cultivate enough pressure to keep your voice crisp, take a deep breath in, tense your body and hold your breath for a few seconds, and then release. Do this a few times to both reduce stress and ease the tension in your voice. Here's why your voice might sound older than it should.
Why do you spontaneously cry?
The cause of your tears is likely obvious: you feel helpless, your feelings were hurt, or your to-do list is 20 items too long. But if you find yourself falling to pieces over the tiniest things, it might be time to reconsider. “Crying spells can have a physical cause, but they also indicate that you’ve built up a lot of subconscious emotions you aren’t processing,” Yvonne Thomas, PhD, a Los Angeles–based psychologist, told Shape.com. Get to the root of the cause and you're more likely to find a solution.
How to turn off the waterworks
As soon as you feel your chin start to quiver and your eyes begin to well, try pinching the webbed piece of skin between your thumb and pointer finger, suggests Joanna Goddard on Glamour.com. In other words, create a tiny physical pain to distract from an emotional one. For a more long-term solution, find an effective way to manage your disruptive feelings. "Set aside some time and really ask yourself what might be stressing you out so much, and form a plan to tackle it head-on,” according to Dr. Thomas.
Why do your hands tremble?
This one’s another result of missed connections in your brain. Your brain's ability to keep your hands still (or to make any other type of movement, for that matter), relies heavily on all of its nerves and structures being able to communicate effectively. When you’re stressed, the part of your brain that regulates your anxiety interferes with this communication, according to an article on Indiana Public Media.The blocked signal lowers your ability to control the position of your hand, which can lead to an irrepressible shake. However, shaky hands that recur and tend to occur when you're not anxious or stressed can be a symptom of Parkinson's disease.
How to keep shaky hands still
If you find yourself prone to shaky hands, fold them in your lap or clasp them in front of you when you enter a stressful situation. If that’s not an option, avoid holding objects like papers and folders, which will make a shaky grip even more pronounced.