In last month’s life-skills workshop we explored how much our mood and thoughts affect us physically. We are all aware of some of the physical signs of stress e.g. a tense neck and shoulders. And we may notice in others the effect of mood e.g. the terms ‘downcast’ or ‘uptight’ evoke an image of the way someone is holding their body as well as their internal state.
Those physical effects are feeding back to the mind too – if we have stressed out, tense bodies that perpetuates our stressed feelings, forming a vicious cycle. (see more about why here).
To take an example from a client recently. They go out for bike rides to de-stress, but were disappointed that they suffered some pain on their rides. As we looked at muscle tension and how our thinking can influence it, they realised that they were taking their stress and tension with them on their bike rides: “I take myself along too”.
So, the bike rides were helpful – fresh air, exercise, getting out of the office, but weren’t being the full relaxing experience that was hoped for.
The background state we have always comes along too, to a greater or lesser extent.
“The way we do anything is the way we do everything” Martha Beck
Even though you allocate a time or activity as a ‘relaxing’ or de-stress time, you are still taking yourself along for the ride, and if you are chronically tense, or anxious or stressed, that is probably coming too!
The good news is that you can train yourself to be calmer, less anxious and have less unnecessary muscle tension.
You can do this by training your muscles (which really means the mind/muscle connection) to ‘switch off’ or literally ‘tone it down’. But you need to break down a general instruction – like ‘relax’ or ‘calm down’- into lots of little instructions that are more achievable, and then have a meaning to your mind and muscles (this is where hands-on work from a teacher is particularly helpful). In doing this, you are by necessity more ‘in the moment’, or mindful if you like, as you can’t pay attention to how you are moving and doing things while worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.
You can gradually learn to incorporate this toning down of your muscles and quieting down of your mind into everyday life and activities. Gradually an easier way of being becomes your new ‘normal’. So, when you want to enjoy some de-stress time you can make the most of it.
Can you switch off properly in your ‘relaxation’ time?
When you are walking or running, or doing whatever hobby you use to relax – take a moment to check in on yourself.
Are your shoulders tense? Is your jaw gripped or your tongue pushed at the top of your mouth? Are your hands or toes gripped up at all?
It can be difficult to notice our tension levels when we are like it all the time, so you may find comments from other people enlightening!
If you notice you are tense when doing this ‘relaxing’ activity you can be sure you are tense most of the time. Just noticing is the first step to making a change.
Try a regular lie down to start to notice and reduce your tension levels. Instructions here
If you want help to learn how to ‘tone it down’ and keep more calm and present throughout the day please get in touch.