Is it Pain or Is It Anxious Tension (Plus 5 Ways to Alleviate the Latter)

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“Anxious tension” is not a word my clients use consistently, however I can see them experience it consistently.

But many of them describe it when it comes to how their bodies feel.

Many people describe anxiety as a painful combo of stress and fear. Technically, tension is defined by Webster’s dictionary as an, “inner striving, unrest, or imbalance often with physiological indication of emotion.”

And it’s real, whether people can describe it as such or not. It’s so real that it manifests itself physically.

The way that it frequently wreaks havoc includes: muscle tension, aches, pains, digestive issues, and muscle twitching.

And oftentimes these symptoms are experienced as: headaches, migraines, TMJ, low back pain, muscle spasms, shoulder/neck pain, leg cramps, digestive issues, stomach aches, and the list goes on and on.

It’s a challenge for many people to separate regular pain and muscle aches and anxious tension. We just know we’re in pain.

Sometimes tension is described as the mental strain on the body of the physical symptoms of experiencing anxiety. I agree with this 100%.

The difficulty with anxious tension is it can appear very random.

Anxious tension can last anywhere from a moment to several hours.

It can set in when the anxiety begins to occur, it can set in when a person attempts to sleep, it can amp up as relaxation is attempted. Which is why my statement of it seeming kind of random is absolutely accurate. There’s no real rhyme or reason for the onset or the departure of the anxious tension.

The reasons behind the anxious tension, are expressed best by the production of cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone that our brains release anytime that our brains (or bodies) perceive as stress occurs.

The difficulty is when anxiety and stress become constant, too dramatically, or too intense. At that point the potential increases to basically get stuck in the stress response state. It’s very similar to the fight, flight or freeze state.

Decreasing anxious tension requires consistency, and intention.

When we set our intention to heal some particular part or parts of our lives or bodies, it implies a certain level of commitment. And with the following commitments will help you relieve your own anxious tension.  

My clients are often asked to implement the following things to alleviate and or ease their expressions of anxious tension and report fabulous results from their implementation:

  1. Regular Massage: This is a great way to alleviate muscle tension. In a perfect world every human being would receive a 90 minute massage at least once a month. However, that’s not a necessity. Even if you just rub your calves for a few minutes a few times a week, it will be beneficial.

  2. Progressive Muscle Relaxation: This is a great technique for stress, tension, pain, and insomnia. Progressive muscle relaxation is really very simple (although many people love to complicate it). This form of relaxation is when you focus on one muscle group at a time and practice tensing or tightening that muscle group. The really important piece is the releasing and relaxing of that same muscle group. Then you move on to the other muscle groups in your body.

  3. Get Good Sleep: I cannot begin to stress the importance of deep healing sleep for the human body. There’s so much research available now that stresses the importance of getting deep and healing sleep. When we get into a deep level of sleep, it allows both our bodies and our mind to heal. I encourage the clients I work with to find the optimal level of sleep for their body. Getting good sleep allows the muscles to relax.

  4. Move Your Body: The key to this one is to move your body gently.  Stretching is a great way to reduce anxious tension. The key to moving your body, stretching, or just walking is to do so very gently. It’s crucial to be kind to your body. It’s not recommended to do anything rigorous because muscles that are overly stretched will contract afterwards. Which ends up being more pain.

  5. Meditation: Many people describe meditation as the ability to clear your mind of all thoughts. That’s not exactly what I’m going for here. My recommendation is to simply focus on your breath. Set your timer for 30 or 60 seconds and just focus on how it feels to inhale and exhale. Focusing on your breath is a great way to engage in meditation. Meditation requires us to relax so it helps our muscles to relax as well.

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The techniques listed in this blog are simply my go-to’s. There’s no right or wrong ways to deal with anxious tension. Give yourself permission to explore and experience new ways to heal your body. What’s NOT on this list that you use to sometimes feel better when tension strikes?

Jenn Bovee is The Driven Women’s Coach to Wholeness. She facilitates people learning to live and love again.

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