Who knew that there was some ubuntu in our daily stress? You don’t have to believe us but science has uncovered the reason why we bite our nails, touch our faces, or fidget when we are anxious. Ubuntu.
Ubuntu is characterised by the human virtues of compassion and humanity.
According to researchers from the University of Portsmouth and Nottingham Trent University (NTU), showing signs of stress could be making people more likeable. Finally, your sympathy for that distressed office “aunty” is explained.
Our ape cousins display similar behaviours when stressed. And the researchers investigated those exact instincts.
According to a research fellow at the NTU school of social sciences, Dr Jamie Whitehouse, actions like scratching, nail-biting, fidgeting and touching one’s hair are all tell-tale signs that you are in a “weakened state.” This could invoke some sympathy from onlookers.
“We wanted to find out what advantages there might be in signalling stress to others, to help explain why stress behaviours have evolved in humans,” explains Whitehouse.
Solidarity in vulnerability
Researchers found that, as well as being able to accurately identify when someone was stressed, people reacted more positively towards to the individuals who showed more signs of stress.
According to co-author, Professor Bridget Waller, findings suggest that people can accurately detect when others are experiencing stress from their behaviours, something which surprisingly has yet to be shown with scientific evidence.
The participants, who were identified as being more stressed during the task, were also perceived as more likeable by others, giving a clue as to why humans have evolved to display stress signals.
“If the individuals are inducing an empathetic-like response…they may appear more likeable because of this, or it could be that an honest signal of weakness may represent an example of benign intent and/or a willingness to engage in a cooperative rather than competitive interaction, something which could be a ‘likeable’ or a preferred trait in a social partner.”
“This fits with the current understanding of expressivity, which tends to suggest that people who are more ’emotionally expressive’, are more well-liked by others and have more positive social interactions.”
Some tips to tame stress
Pretoria psychiatrist Dr Arnold Lawrence shares four practical steps for calming down:
Breathing exercises: Change your breathing. “In the old days, our elders would give us a brown paper bag to breathe into.”
Ease tension: Lawrence suggests a hot bath, heat compression or some stretching.
Meditation: Meditation is simply thinking about the here and now, says Lawrence. A mantra or focusing on breathing helps, he says.
Imagery: Simply imagine yourself in a safe space.