“Don’t roll your eyes at me,” is a phrase I’ve heard probably a zillion times in my life. Because, real talk: I have an eye-rolling problem. If someone tells me to “put away my laundry,” or about a “great!” (read: terrible) guy they’re dating who I explicitly expressed my disproval of—I’m going to roll my eyes. Can’t help it.
But as science confirms, it isn’t my fault. The hard-to-control (sorry, sorry) reflex is, literally, your brain trying to get as far away as possible from the ridiculousness at hand. “The brain and body don’t lie: Behaviors like eye rolling happen immediately,” says Lillian Glass, PhD, author and body language expert. “It’s your neurology talking, so when something is very offensive or ridiculous or doesn’t make sense, you eye roll as a way of disconnecting. This stems from your limbic system, the middle of your brain that controls your emotions.”
So your brain signals to your eyes to roll up because you’re trying to recoil from what’s being said to you. “It’s the extreme of looking away,” says Dr. Glass. “You are trying to literally look away from something distrusting or distasteful being presented to you.” Makes sense.
“You are trying to literally look away from something distrusting or distasteful being presented to you.” —Dr. Lillian Glass
The thing about eye rolling is that there’s much more to it than your eyeballs rolling back into your head—it manifests itself in various other ways through your body language that you’re probably not even realizing. “You can also relay that feeling with a facial expression—normally it’s not just an eye roll, sometimes your whole face will grimace or one corner of the mouth will go up slightly,” says Blanca Cobb, MS, Psy, body language expert. “You can have crinkling and tension in the forehead. In terms of your body, you might give a shoulder shrug or turn your body away from the person you’re giving the eye roll to.”
You could also wave someone off, she says, noting that it depends on how you handle irritation. “Others might tap or stomp their feet or cross their legs,” says Cobb. “A lot can be happening.”
And yet, since you don’t necessarily want to be known as a perpetual eye roller (talking about myself here), it’s good to know how to control it—as much as it feels like a reflex. The real key is to simply be cognizant of the habit. “If it’s a high stakes situation, like your boss is saying something, you’re going to try hard to not roll your eyes because it can leave a bad impression or you can get reprimanded,” says Cobb. One pro tip? Watch your own reflection when you’re annoyed. “Look at yourself in the mirror or on your phone’s camera when you get irritated and just look at yourself,” she says. “It’s so important because it’s self awareness. When it comes to body language it isn’t always about reading someone else—it’s also what you bring to the table and how your nonverbal signs impact the interaction.” So keep. those eyes. still.
You could also just squeeze your toes. Seriously. “When you feel irritated, take your toes and squeeze them really tight,” says Cobb. “And then release. And what this does is you feel the tension release. You’ll notice the different sensation and it’s a way to release some of that energy, that negativity or anxiety.” Of course, you could also just address the eye roll-inducing elephant in the room and simply speak your feelings. “That’s healthier to talk about the situation than to be passive aggressive,” she says. Now hopefully I can get rid of my eye-rolling reputation.
It also helps to check out these tips for how to overcome challenges for a successful mindset. And here’s how the four temperaments personality test can give you some insight to your true self.
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