People often come to me asking me what it means when their husband shrugs his shoulder swhen asked where he was, or what it means if their son avoids eye contact when asked if he’s been doing drugs. Body language on its own is not universal. Every person has their own baseline for what is natural for them. Some people shrug their shoulders for no reason. Some people don't maintain eye contact, or give too much eye contact. There is no definitive reason as to why people use the body language that they use.
But what happens when body language changes from the norm and the reason isn’t deception? You might be surprised to discover that your body language can indicate health problems – problems you may not be aware of. Knowing what can cause underlying health issues may save your life!
#1: Blinking Baseline
Have you ever questioned your blinking habits? That's right, blinking "habits". Ask yourself, "Is it odd that some people blink once or twice a minute, while others seem to have a blink-fest in 60 seconds?" Now, stop. Before you keep reading, get your baseline blink rate count. Engage someone in conversation and have them count your blinks for 1 minute. If there's no one home with you, set your kitchen timer and count your blinks. Go ahead, do it. This blog will still be here when you get back.
So, how'd you do? Do you think your blink rate is normal?
Generally, between each blink is an interval of 2-10 seconds. However, this varies from person to person. On average, people blink about 15 times a minute. Someone feeling anxious or telling a lie blinks more often, and a person deep in concentration or thought blinks less often. But what if you blink far more or far less than the average? Excessive blinking may indicate the onset of Tourette syndrome, strokes, or disorders of the nervous system.
Excessive blinking may also be a by-product of medical procedures. My mother has a high blink rate – 47 blinks per minute – but the cause of her high blink rate is easily traced back to chemotherapy. According to a study on breast cancer patients going through chemotherapy from Dartmouth, “Chemo dries out your eyes. Sometimes your eyes water like crazy, but that’s the tear ducts overcompensating for the moisture that’s supposed to be there.” For my mother, her 47 blinks per minute is understandable. But, if you've got a high blink rate, make sure to talk about it with your eye doctor.
A reduced rate of blinking is often associated with Parkinson's disease. Parkinson's patients have a distinct obscure stare that is very recognizable. This is a manifestation of dopamine depletion in the striatum, the brain structure responsible for muscle movement and coordination, which results in rigidity of the muscles of the eyelids. This rigidity causes the lids to stay open and dry out the eyes. It's uncontrollable. Yes, some people stare, but others can't control it.
#2: Depression Detection
One of the most telling symptoms of depression is a change in sleep patterns, which can cause people extreme tiredness, loss of energy, and difficulty concentrating or making decisions. Common symptoms of depression that can change a person's body language baseline include: A decrease in hand gestures, daytime fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating.
Think about it, when you haven't gotten enough sleep or taken care of yourself the way you should, how do you change? What about your body language lets people know that there's something “off” about you? Are your hand gestures suddenly diminished? When you're not yourself, you say more than you think.
#3: Excessive Yawning
If you're not tired, bored, or yawning because some else yawned, and you literally can't stop yawning, it might be time to call your doctor! The deep breathing patterns associated with yawning affect the heart. It could be a red flag signal signaling DANGER!
As a body language expert, I can help you find hot spots that may signify an increase in stress or a burst of confidence – and maybe even spot a non-verbal cue of a possible medical problem going on in your body or someone else's. But I am not a medical practitioner. I can help you read a person's body language, but I cannot diagnose a person with a medical problem or disease. I can teach you the questions to ask in order to get to the bottom of it and find the truth about what's going on. However, if you feel that you might have a medical problem, call your doctor.