Suddenly, I became aware of my clinched jaws, my shoulders tensing up and my hands forming into fists. I remember being shocked when my therapist told me to try not to relax. Instead of giving into my urge to relax, she invited me to pay attention. I could then actually get a sense of my tension and there was space for it to develop into a sensation that I could register as a feeling. In other words, I became available to the information my tension was holding, which paradoxically led me to feel relaxed.
When we respond to our tension by trying to relax:
When we respond to others’ tension by telling them to relax:
What can we do with tension?
The idea that relaxation is good for us is not something that needs protesting against. We now know that being relaxed can soothe us when we are overwhelmed, that it can regulate our emotional responses, that it can support our breathing. What seems to get missed is that relaxation – a bit like joy – works more as a side effect rather than something we need to aim for by direct means.
Responding to our own or other’s emotional expression or tension by trying to relax ourselves or them can fuel alienation. Moments of connection, which we so desperately need, can be undermined by our attempts to relax one another. We would achieve just that, only if we stopped trying.
As published on welldoing.org