How do I contro nervous yawning?
February 16, 2012 1:35 PM   Subscribe

How can I control my yawning tic, or at least make it less offensive? It seems to really put people off, and I feel terrible.

I was at a small conference today and afterwards I found one of the speakers to tell him how much I enjoyed his session, and he was quite defensive and said that he was worried I'd been bored because I'd yawned through it all. I was extremely embarrassed as well as feeling bad for him - I do quite a bit of public speaking as well, and that one person who looks bored or annoyed can make it a really unpleasant experience.

I cover my mouth, and try to make up for it by looking as bright and attentive as possible, but the fact is that when I am in a situation where I don't want to yawn (meeting, serious conversation, etc) then I seem to do it uncontrollably. The more I try to stop, the more it happens. It's so bad that in previous job interviews, I've contacted the interviewers beforehand to tell them it's a tic and to please not hold it against me. A boss who became a good friend told me that had I *not* done that, I would have never gotten the job, because she'd never seen anyone yawn so much. I'm not sleepy, I'm not bored, so I don't know what I can do to control it! Help please.
posted by Wroksie to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried dry eye drops? I find that one reason I yawn during lectures and such (even ones I find engaging) is that my eyes become dry -- maybe from keeping them open longer than I would if I weren't focusing on something? -- and I believe the yawning is a response to that (it gets my tear ducts going and moistens my eyes).
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 1:41 PM on February 16, 2012

Best answer: I yawned a lot in grade school and one teacher took it really personally, to the point of yelling at me every time I did, as though I were able to control it.

So my advice is to do what I did: Learn to yawn through your nose, with your mouth closed. It won't work as well in one-on-one conversations but if you get good at it, it'll work passably well.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 1:42 PM on February 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

Also: something I do when I feel an inappropriate yawn coming on is to turn it into a fake cough.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 1:43 PM on February 16, 2012

I used to yawn frequently when stressed, to the extent that it would've been a total poker tell. I learned FM's yawn-through-the-nose trick, too.
posted by deludingmyself at 1:43 PM on February 16, 2012

Best answer: Hi. Yawner here. I can only control it by raising a counterpoint (on paper if speaking aloud isn't practical) or by standing up and walking around. It mostly happens to me when I'm being a bit passive but trying to look interested. I don't sit through many lectures, but job interviews and meetings are a good example of that because naturally I'm wanting to put the person at ease, but especially if they tend to talk at length it means suppressing the urge to jump in and take the conversation to a more interesting place.

I like your strategy to call it a tic and I wonder if it's curable the way some other habits are.
posted by michaelh at 1:44 PM on February 16, 2012

I tap my toes (quietly) to distract myself. Or I bite the inside of my cheek to stop myself from yawning.

You could also perfect the closed-mouth yawn, which is only visible as slightly flared nostrils!
posted by vickyverky at 1:44 PM on February 16, 2012

Do you yawn all the time or just around other people?

Can you yawn without opening your mouth? This is what I do when I'm in a situation where yawning is inappropriate. It's less obvious than an open-mouth yawn with hand covering, and almost as satisfying as a proper yawn.

But actually I think I yawn a lot less ever since a disastrous first (and last) date where I kept yawning, to the point where I had to apologize for it ("I don't know what's wrong with me today!") and the date in question informed me that usually when people yawn it's because they're uncomfortable. That's a nice conversation-stopper. I think ever since then I've made an effort to channel my uncomfortableness tics in a non-yawn direction.

On preview: yes, yawning through your nose is what I'm talking about.
posted by mskyle at 1:45 PM on February 16, 2012

Best answer: Breath deeply. Trust me. I used to have this problem, too.
When I'm in a situation that requires no motor input, only mental concentration, my breathing slows, drastically. Not everyone is like this, I've noticed. But for me, my breathing can get so slow and shallow, you can hardly tell I'm breathing. And my body would do this subconsciously, whenever I'm at a meeting, watching a presentation, or whatever. And this would cause me to yawn. Maybe it's the same for you. try and pay attention to your breathing the next time this happens.
posted by FirstMateKate at 1:47 PM on February 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

I have also learned to yawn with my mouth closed for fear of my yawning as being misinterpreted. I always attest my urge to yawn as having more to do with needing oxygen than sleepiness. Getting outside for a minute especially if it's cold and otherwise breathing deeply cures it for me. So does sipping on cold water and laughing.
posted by marimeko at 1:50 PM on February 16, 2012

Meetings where I'm just listening do this to me (actually, sometimes I'll even get the nods), and I agree with FirstMateKate that it's about breathing. One of the causes of yawning is too-high levels of blood carbon dioxide, which will happen if you're not breathing enough or deeply enough.

When I have to sit through hardcore all-day classes or seminars, I'll even use about half a squirt of decongestant nasal spray in the morning and another after lunch, since I think part of my problem is that I normally rely on a certain amount of mouth-breathing to get around my allergies and general sinus problems.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:53 PM on February 16, 2012

I yawn like crazy also, even when I'm not tired (although I find that frequent yawning makes me feel more tired). Yawning through your nose is absolutely one of the best ways to cover this up; like others have said, all it will be is flared nostrils and maybe slightly more narrowed eyes. I also tend to notice I yawn more frequently when I'm a little cold (like getting into the car in the winter after it's been sitting outside in the parking lot at work all day) - if you think that might be contributing to your problem, maybe dress a little warmer?
posted by agress at 2:49 PM on February 16, 2012

I get this too, even though in me it is a tic that is unrelated to tiredness coffee seems to help anyway.

Beyond that though I fake it by taking in a deep breath and then allowing the yawn to happen by breathing out through my nose while letting the back of my mouth get big and wide but keeping my lips closed and my jaw mostly still.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:05 PM on February 16, 2012

Perhaps chewing gum or hard candies would help you resist the yawn?
posted by Corvid at 3:06 PM on February 16, 2012

A tip I think I read in a 19th century novel is to keep your mouth closed, and then press under your chin to stifle a yawn. Not the bony part, but the soft part, and I swear, it always works for me.
posted by thylacinthine at 3:27 PM on February 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

I yawn easily as well and the tactic described above that stifles yawns really works. I am now really skilled at swallowing yawns.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:44 PM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Stretching may also help. Not the obvious arms-up-in-the-air kind if you're sitting in a meeting, but — you know the stretches they tell you to do on a long airplane flight so your legs don't feel like they're gonna fall off? Point your toes, curl your toes up, lift your toes up and try to push your heels through the floor, extend your legs, stuff like that. I don't know if it's just that doing physical stuff is distracting, or whether there's actually some sort of anti-yawning value to getting yourself stretched out, but whatever, it seems to work for me.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:38 PM on February 16, 2012

Is it a room-temperature thing, possibly? I yawn uncontrollably when I'm cold or chilled, so luckily I've learned to yawn with my mouth shut.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:11 PM on February 16, 2012

Pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth ALWAYS WORKS at stifling yawns.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 4:50 PM on February 19, 2012

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