Body Language in the Digital Age

Humans are experts at non-verbal communication. It is how we understand what is going on, and how we signal our feelings to others, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

So what happens when we are not in the same room together? How can we read someone’s body language when we cannot see their body?

Erica Dhawan, author of the book, Digital Body Language: how to build trust and connection no matter the distance, says “non-verbal cues (facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, pitch) comprise nearly three-quarters of how we understand one another in person.”

“The loss of non-verbal body cues is among the most overlooked reasons why employees feel so disengaged from others… disengagement happens not because people do not want to be empathetic but because with today’s tools, they do not know how.”

The end result is that we often assume too much from tiny clues, or misinterpret what we read and see.

“We all need to be aware that our digital body language emits signals, deliberate or not,” says Dhawan.

In a digital workspace, your non-verbal communication comes across through your presence on video calls, and your words and punctuation on texts, chats and emails. Let us look at each of these:

Communication via online video

Without the normal cues, people will make assumptions based on small actions.

A 2022 survey of 200 executives showed that 92 per cent believed that employees who turned off their cameras during meetings were less likely to have a long-term future at their company.

Then there is all the cues you are sending out even when you have your camera on.

Research shows that even factors such as your camera angle and your distance from the camera influence how likeable you seem.

Mi Ridell, an expert in body language based in Sweden says, “In the digital setting we have to think about the set-up, and accept that it is a new way to communicate.”

“If a colleague positions their camera below the chin, forcing others to look up to them, we do not like them as much as if they are on the same level.”

We need to learn new techniques, such as how to make eye contact on a video call.

“The brain wants to look at the face [on the screen]” says Ridell, “but you have to learn to look in the camera when it is your turn to speak.”

Yet at the same time, the usual rules of respect for others’ time still applies. When someone is talking, show you are listening. Lean in rather than slouch back, smile when someone makes a joke, nod encouragingly when someone tries to explain something.

Communication via writing

Do you end a text to colleagues with a full stop? It might be seen as aggressive.

And how about exclamation marks? Do they show enthusiasm? Or desperation?

The tiny nuances of how we communicate via text, chat and email can take on great significance.

According to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the tone of our emails is misinterpreted 50 per cent of the time.

You cannot control how others interpret your punctuation and emojis, but you can apply the basic rules of respect – even when you are busy. Think about the impact of how long you take to respond to someone. Too long and it can feel like you do not value them. Too fast and it can seem you are not putting thought into it.

Gratitude and appreciation are still vital. Take the time to thank people, sincerely and in your own words, for their contribution. You cannot pop into their office at the end of the day to thank them, but you can send an email or message at the end of the day to acknowledge their work, before logging off for the evening.

Download an Audio Book

Love reading but a little short on time? Then how about listening to an audiobook while commuting, exercising, cooking or cleaning?

Some avid readers dismiss audiobooks, saying they are just not as good as the real deal (and they mean the proper, paper kind).

But to our brains, there is little difference, says Discover magazine.

“In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers from the Gallant Lab at UC Berkeley scanned the brains of nine participants while they read and listened… Looking at the brain scans, the researchers saw that the stories stimulated the same cognitive and emotional areas, regardless of their medium.”

Psychology Today also points out the many ways listening to novels and non-fiction can help us to become not only better read, but also improve our mental health too. If you are prone to anxiety or depression it can be hard to focus enough to read. But listening to someone else read aloud can help replace your daily worries and negative thoughts with something else. As an extra boost to your mental health, you can take your audiobook with you on a walk.

Another bonus of audiobooks? They help relax your overworked eyes and take you off screens. Too long spent looking at screens can lead to eyestrain and long-term vision problems like myopia. Ditch the screen at the end of the day and curl up with an audiobook instead.

Frozen Peas

Reaching for the frozen peas when your fridge is empty is not avoiding meal preparation. Despite their image as the vegetable of last resort, here are four reasons why frozen peas deserve a place at your dinner table.

1. Protein.

Have you noticed that pea protein now sits alongside other protein powders? Peas are a legume like chickpeas and kidney beans, and so are a rich plant-based source of protein, containing about 5.4g per 80g serving. This is one reason why they are so filling.

2. Low GI.

If you need to monitor your blood sugar levels, peas’ low glycaemic index and high fibre content will help. They contain a form of starch that slows digestion, releasing glucose slowly into the bloodstream.

3. Rich in nutrients.

Like many frozen fruit and vegetables, peas are picked when at the peak of their ripeness and snap frozen within hours. Some studies find that frozen produce may have more antioxidants and vitamins than their fresh counterparts. The nutrients in peas include vitamins A, C, K, thiamine, folate, polyphenol antioxidants, and the minerals iron, manganese and phosphorus.

4. Convenient and low cost.

With rising food prices, buying frozen is one way of keeping costs down. And storing them in your freezer drawer means you will not be throwing out vegetables that are not used by the end of the week.

Is Low Morning Mood a Thing?

If you start the day feeling sad or anxious, or have very low energy and find it hard to get out of bed – and you feel this way for two weeks or more – you may have morning depression.

Depression can hit different people at different times of the day; it is rarely a steady state all day long.

Morning depression, also called diurnal mood variation, is not a separate condition to depression, but it is considered a hallmark symptom of clinical depression.

When you have a tough day ahead, or you are feeling tired from lack of sleep, it is natural to feel a bit down about the day ahead.

Morning depression is different. It tends to occur even when there is no obvious reason for feeling down, and no reason for the ups and downs of mood throughout the day.

“People who are depressed may feel there is no clear reason for the mood changes they experience at certain times of the day. Unlike people who do not have depression, they may feel that they are unable to control the changes,” explains Nancy Schimelpfening from the depression support group, Depression Sanctuary.

What are the symptoms?

Schimelpfening says people who have depression with diurnal mood variation have a low mood and feel that their depression symptoms are at their worst in the morning, but they seem to get better throughout the day.

They are likely to feel the classic depression symptoms of profound sadness and low mood, as well as feeling:

  • irritable or easily frustrated
  • extremely tired and lethargic upon waking,
  • difficulty completing daily tasks
  • little or no enthusiasm or interest in the day ahead (even if pleasurable activities are planned)
  • it is hard to wake up or getting out of bed.

What causes morning depression?

Morning depression has similar triggers to clinical depression, which is caused by a complex mix of physiological, mental and emotional stressors.

Psychologist Dr Sarah Gundle says this type of depression can also be linked with your sleep and circadian rhythms.

“Your body’s natural clock, called the circadian rhythm, regulates everything from heart rate to body temperature. It also affects energy, thinking, alertness, and mood.”

Dr Gundle also points out that stress can play a direct role in depression. “Too much cortisol can be linked to anxiety and depression,” she explains.

“Normally, cortisol levels spike in the mornings, leaving some people feeling more down. However, when your sleep schedule is off, these hormones will either be irregularly produced or create an imbalance causing morning depression.”

What to do about it

If you have noticed these symptoms, the first step is to rule out other issues which could be causing your symptoms, such as sleep deficiency, iron deficiency or stress and exhaustion.

Make an appointment with your doctor to talk about your symptoms.

After ruling out other issues, they may suggest a range of treatments such as seeing a psychologist or therapist, medication, meditation, exercise, or changing your eating and drinking habits.

Light therapy, also called phototherapy, might also help.

Are Fitness Trackers Healthy?

At first thought, it seems obvious that a fitness tracker would help boost your health. It helps you get fitter, right?

Perhaps, but the devices may also reduce your overall wellness by triggering more obsession and less connection with your body.

The research on whether fitness trackers actually make you move more is inconclusive. In the end, it seems to depend on the person. Some people thrive on setting measurable goals and achieving them. Others have a spike of motivation at the beginning, and then get bored. But others can fall into an unhealthy focus on numbers which turns their life into a calculation.

Mark McKeon is an author, presenter and former AFL coach. Speaking in the Australian Financial Review, he says knowing you have only walked 1000 steps by lunchtime might motivate some people, “but it can also make you stressed and set off a series of physiological changes that are more detrimental than an inactive morning.”

When you first set up your tracker, it may ask for your basic details, often telling you how many calories you need to stay the same weight, or lose weight.

For people who are prone to anxiety or disordered thinking about weight and exercise, this can be more detrimental than beneficial. Having a device beep at you because you have only done 9,400 steps that day can turn a good day into a guilt-ridden day.

Alissa Rumsey, author of Unapologetic Eating, says fitness trackers can lead to negative obsession for some people.

“They become fixated on the numbers and kind of preoccupied with tracking and hitting certain numbers and in doing so lose track of what really matters.

They stop paying attention to know their body feels and if they need rest, if they need movement.”

Rumsey suggests mitigating this by regularly checking in with how you feel, and let that guide you.


Check in with your body BEFORE you check your fitness tracker. Practise listening to your body to see how it feels before and after exercise and move in a way that feels good for you.