How to Relax By Tensing Up!
by Robin Sacks
Where your mind goes, your body will tend to follow; and where your body goes, your mind will tend to follow.
Your mind and body are completely intertwined.
At times, you may think something that makes your body physiologically respond. For example, let's say you have to present a report in front of your team, and you spend the days leading up to that meeting telling yourself (and everyone else around you), "I'm so nervous!" Your body hears all of that, and responds accordingly; your stomach might feel upset, you might have a headache, and every time you sit down, your foot is going a mile a minute under the table!
When your thoughts tell your body, "I'm nervous," your body says - oh, I know how to do 'nervous,' and it does it.
Other times, you may physically feel something first, and then you choose to label that feeling in your head. The label you choose will determine your behavior, response, or emotion. For example, you feel 'butterflies' in your stomach, and immediately label it as "I'm nervous," even thought that exact same feeling can mean you're excited.
The key to taking control in both of these situations it to starts with your thoughts and self-talk.
Try this - think of a time when you were incredibly stressed out. (That might be right now! After all, there's a lot to stress about right now.)
The more you focus on that situation, the more tense your body will physically become.
You may notice a headache, muscle tension, or an ache or pain somewhere in your body depending on where you are physically holding that tension.
When you are tense, it goes somewhere in the body.
But by changing your thoughts and self-talk, you can release that tension within moments.
A great exercise to release muscle tension in your body, and release mental tension anytime you need to, is to do something counter intuitive - create more body tension intentionally.
Let me walk you through this.
Whether you're sitting or standing, I want you to make tight fists with your hands. Ball your hands up as tightly as you can. Create a ton of tension. If you are doing it right, you'll even feel it in your arms, biceps, shoulders and maybe even your upper back and your chest. Hold it for several seconds.
Now, release the tension.
Do it again. Tense it all up...you might even be shaking if you're tensing enough...and now release it.
Do you feel the difference?
By creating that tension, and then releasing it, you actually released all of the body tension you have right now.
In this moment, you are tension free.
You can do this throughout your entire body.
In other words, curl your toes and tense your feet up real tight for several seconds. Then, release them. Tense your knees; lock your knees and make your leg muscles tense, hold it for several seconds, and then release.
What you've just done is not only intentionally enhance the tension in your body and then release it fully, but you've also released tension from your brain.
When your body is tense, your brain is starting to think, 'What's wrong.?!? Why are we so worried/scared/stressed/tense/angry/nervous/anxious.' But when you release it all, your brain kind of takes a breath, and is able to go from concern to, 'Everything seems OK right now. We're under control.'
Try using this technique anytime you're feeling stressed. As a matter of fact, intentionally do this exercise a few times a day, even if you are feeling fine.
It will help you begin to build a muscle memory so that when your body does gets tense, it naturally knows how to quickly release it, because you've taught it how to do that.