How to Use Tension in a Productive Way

Photo by Monica Leonardi

We tend to want to eliminate completely built-up stress, either through activities that clear our mind, such as meditation or exercise, or through activities that give us pleasure at the expense of our long-term wellbeing – drinking, stress eating etc. Focusing on tension release without accounting for the long-term impact of how we do it creates a bigger negative impact in the long run than the immediate positive effect.

Experiencing tension is a good opportunity to pause and understanding what led us to this moment. Is it frustration with our own decisions or some things that are outside of our control. Once we understand the root cause, we can empower ourselves to change the way we react to situations. Reactions are natural, but they are also specific to each individual. We react based on what we perceive as normal. A broader example is how some cultures celebrate death, while others celebrate the birth of a child. Our values are specific to us.

Tension is our body and brain reacting to events throughout the day and storing a sense of alertness that cannot be maintained for a long period of time. Managing tension is a life skill that allows us to clear out the clouds and see the sky clearly. Under a clear sky we are more likely to stick to our path than in semi-darkness. Also, seeing more friends than threats in people will attract more kindness.

Breathe In and Take Control Over Your Actions

Photo by Nine Köpfer

We pride ourselves with our ability to think, but when it comes to pressure and perceived threats we are not always making conscious decisions. From ‘I can’t find my keys before going to work’ to fear of public speaking, deadlines or our views being challenged – everything takes a certain level of awareness. Panic leaves little room to clear thinking.

Long-term practices such as meditation or floatation tanks deal with the backlog of accumulated stress, but what can we do in the moment? It’s as easy as breathing, but taking deep breaths isn’t a natural reaction when our heart is racing. This is why it’s good to have prompts either around the place (environmental design) or a person that can keep you accountable and guide you.

It takes strength to acknowledge the weakness of when our prefrontal cortex takes over. Once we accept the reality of the situation, we can move through regulating our body, telling it to obey us and then plan according to what the reality is, rather than what it looks like.

Not Suffering for Company.

The conditions of a solitary bird are five:

The first, that it flies to the highest point; the second, that it does not suffer for company, not even of its own kind (…)

Carlos Castaneda

Accepting loneliness is a huge part of enjoying and selecting the company of other people.

It prevents us from developing circumstantial relationships that don’t benefit us, relationships that take us away from understanding ourselves and our direction in life.

Life doesn’t always rend itself to deliberate planning that would lead to introspection.

What can we do then?

  1. Take time for yourself. Time for ourselves doesn’t necessarily mean running away to a meditation camp. It can be time inside our head that we use for distressing and understanding ourselves, our motives and goals.
  2. Be precious about your time. De-clutter people, interactions and reduce the impact they have on your life.

Remember: you can get paid for your time, but you can’t pay to get back the time. At the end of the day, being comfortable with yourself has a greater impact on your life than a friendship you might have missed along the way.