Involuntary nervous reactions stock

Leading psychologist educating public about involuntary nervous reactions

Leading behavioural psychologist Jo Hemmings is on a mission to educate the nation on how to deal with involuntary physical reactions to feeling nervous, apprehensive, or even excited.

Hemmings has revealed what the top physical tells are and how to combat them, with more than 70 per cent of people in the UK believing their confidence is affected because of physical reactions. A poll of over 2,000 adults by PokerStars found that the most common physical reaction – also known as a ‘tell’ – was fidgeting, with more than 53 per cent confessing to the restless habit when feeling under pressure.

Other top behavioural tells included avoiding eye contact (52 per cent), touching your face (48 per cent), tripping over your words (45 per cent) and sweaty palms (38 per cent).

Almost three quarters (72 per cent) say they fear their tells held them back from going for new opportunities, making new friends (62 per cent), securing a job (60 per cent) or even taking a relationship to the next level (53 per cent). Behavioural Psychologist Hemmings, who has teamed up with PokerStars to reflect on the research, said: “When you feel nervous or anxious, your brain activates the body’s stress response, also known as the fight-or-flight response.

“The reason that people exhibit these tells is because it is a way that they can cope with their emotions, providing a temporary relief from feelings of tension.”

Additionally, ahead of the start of the next big sporting events this weekend, the research revealed that watching sport is one of the top situations where we’re likely to exhibit these mannerisms.

38 per cent of those polled revealed they feel nervous when watching their favourite team.

The most common situation where people were likely to experience involuntary tells was when meeting new people (57 per cent).

This was closely followed by in job interviews (51 per cent), when feeling the centre of attention (51 percent), when talking to important people at work (43 per cent) and when making small talk (42 percent).

Despite this, two thirds (67 per cent) have not sought help in managing their behaviours.

But among those who have, one in two (53 per cent) had sought help from a professional, either face to face or virtually, a third searched for advice on the internet (38 per cent) or friend or family member (36 per cent) and just under a quarter (23 per cent) looked towards the personal experiences of leading figures such as athletes, entrepreneurs, or politicians (23 per cent).

Hemmings added: “It’s understandable that people want to look for ways to combat these habits and manage their behaviour under pressure. The problem is that a lot of these tells are on auto-response, so we have little control over what happens, and others are habits that can be difficult to break because we have adopted them over time and when associated with stressful situations or excitable scenarios.

“However, there are tactics we can adopt to try to remain cool and collected when feeling out of our comfort zone.”

Jo Hemmings’ top 10 tips to control your ‘tells’:

1. Increase your self-awareness: Identify your common tells – physical, verbal, or even changes in your tone of voice. Once you recognise your tells, you can work on managing them.

2. Practice relaxation methods: Learn and practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness exercises to help you stay calm.

3. Positive mental attitude: Use positive self-talk to remind yourself of your abilities and past successes to boost your self-assurance.

4. Prepare thoroughly: Whether it’s a speech, presentation, or an important conversation, the more you know and understand the topic, the more confident you’ll feel.

5. Visualise success: Visualisation can help reduce anxiety and build self-assurance.

6. Practice under pressure: Rehearse your presentation in front of a trusted friend or colleague who can provide feedback. You can even record this and play it back to see some of your tells for yourself.

7. Keep a steady pace: When under pressure, slow down your movements, speech, and thinking. Rushing can make your tells more pronounced. Take deliberate, measured actions.

8. Control your body language: Avoid nervous gestures, fidgeting, or excessive blinking. Maintain good posture and eye contact to convey confidence. Using progressive muscle relaxation, tensing and then relaxing each muscle group, can help train your body language tells.

9. Stay in the moment: Focus on the task at hand and the immediate steps you need to take. Listen to what is being asked of you and avoid thinking about the potential consequences or what might happen in the future.

10. Ask for feedback: After a high-pressure situation, ask for feedback from trusted colleagues or friends. They can provide insights into your performance and help you identify areas for improvement.

Learning to manage your ‘tells’ is one of the core skills needed to play poker with only 36 per cent believing they have a good poker face and 4 in 10 admitting to experiencing involuntary physical reactions at the table.

For tip on how to maintain your poker face, head over to the PokerStars blog for tips from British PokerStars Ambassador Ben Spragg –

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