4 Tips to Reduce Tension in Your Life

written by Kelsey Schultz, Ph.D. Candidate and Tchiki Davis, M.A., Ph.D., posted on Psychology Today

Tension is typically experienced in our bodies as tightness or stiffness in our muscles. This kind of tension can be quite painful and can sometimes severely restrict your ability to move. Tense muscles may be tender to the touch and feel like a chronic cramp or spasm.

Tension is a characteristic present in a variety of physical and emotional experiences. Here are a few examples of where we might observe tension:

  • Tension and resolution in music, film, and literature
  • Balance of opposing forces created in visual art
  • Interpersonal conflict or hostility
  • Experience of conflicting desires within ourselves
  • Tension Headaches
  • Neck and shoulder pain
  • Anticipating an emotionally impactful event

The Role of Stress

Our fears and anxieties don’t just occur in our minds, they are expressed throughout our bodies as well. When we are stressed, the branch of our nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system is activated. Activation of the sympathetic nervous system is the physiological component of our fight or flight response. That is, our sympathetic nervous system is responsible for preparing our bodies for action when we feel as though we are in danger.

​Part of this preparation is the release of a neurotransmitter, called acetylcholine, which is responsible for making our muscles contract. Thus, when we are stressed out, our bodies interpret that stress as danger and activate our sympathetic nervous system, which promotes the release of acetylcholine, and ultimately leads to the contraction of muscles, even when we don’t want it to.