Tension sits in our bodies.
As we are exposed to a stressful situation, our brains automatically start off their fight- flight-freeze responses. Our hearts start pumping faster, our muscles tense up for action. Often, in today’s society we do not react with physical movement to the stress, but with a mental and emotional response from a seated position. A physical action would dissipate the built-up tension in our muscles, and change the balance of hormones and neurotransmitters. We would be able to relax. Mental reactions just don’t have the same effect on our bodies. So we regularly sit with the physical feeling of tension long after the cause has passed. Often, when we are exposed to a similar situation, our bodies react in the same way they did before. It’s almost like a muscle memory that is recalled and with it come the associated emotions. We can get stuck in a spiral with ever-increasing tightness. So the tension in our bodies builds up, stressful experience stacked upon stressful experience – a complex interaction between an anxiety-producing incident, our impression of its meaning, our emotions and our embodied experience that keeps us trapped in the hold of anxiety.
There is hope – because of this complex matrix it is also possible to break the connection from different angles. In my last blog I explored our attitudes to times of tension as the foundation for working with our anxieties, as well as what we can learn from our emotions. This time, I would like to explore some physical approaches to reducing embodied tension as part of the process of releasing the hold of the tension cycle: