When we are feeling emotional stress or anxiety, our body responds in several ways – one of those responses is muscle tension. Stress triggers our body’s Fight or Flight response and releases stress hormones in our bloodstream. These stress hormones trigger both physical and psychological responses and is a perfect example of the mind-body connection. One of the ways our body responds to stress hormones is muscle contraction and tightening in order to increase our physical effectivity in dangerous situations. Although in current day the majority of our stress is psychological and emotional, our bodies still react in this manner. Muscle tension is not problematic when our stress response gets triggered infrequently because our bodies have time to recover. However, for people experiencing chronic stress or anxiety, the body can remain in an arousal state ready to “fight or flee” and muscle tension can persist.
Everyone carries tension in different parts of their body, so it is important to identify where you hold your tension. For example, tension can be in your chest, jaw, legs, shoulders, gastrointestinal area, etc. It is important to identify the body part or parts that hold the most tension for you and begin to increase your awareness of these tense muscles. By increasing your awareness, you can use your body to cue you into the fact that you are experiencing both physical and emotional tension and that it is time to engage in a coping skill, self-care activity or relaxation technique.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation is one technique that can assist you in decreasing muscle tension and, in turn, your emotional stress! The idea is to focus on different muscle groups and systematically tense and release these areas. It is important to focus on the difference between a tense muscle and a relaxed one in order to help you increase awareness of the bodily tension you may be walking through life with. As you practice and build this skill, you will gain earlier detection of tension and will more easily be able to relax your muscles.
Below is a link to a Progressive Muscle Relaxation audio guide I created. Please feel free to listen, practice and relax yourself!