Everyone has to deal with tension in their life. Tension does not always have to be negative. There is also healthy tension, namely tension that ensures that you can perform well under pressure. If you experience tension very often, suffer from it and/or if you can no longer properly focus on a task due to it, then the tension becomes negative.
Fight, flight or freeze
When there is tension, the body prepares to get into action: fight, flight or freeze. This is useful when there is real danger but distressing when there is no immediate danger. The tension, and the reaction to it, is therefore dysfunctional in the situation. It is important to recognize when tension is not useful and to be aware of when it is important to relax properly. Sometimes we have been under stress for so long that we can no longer relax properly. Exercises can help you relax. Learning to relax takes time, you cannot suddenly learn to relax. By practising it a lot, you can become better at it. Several ways to relax are described below.
Relax by tensing
It is possible to learn to relax by tensing your muscles first and then releasing the tension, by making a fist with your hands, for example. By contracting a muscle and then ‘letting go’, it can induce feelings of relaxation.
Relax without tensing
The next step is to relax without tightening your muscles. Focus on each and every part of your body and try to relax every one of them. Release the tension from your muscles. If you still feel tension, you can tighten your muscles a little and then let go. You will begin to learn how to relax muscles that you do not use.
Linking relaxation to self-instruction
This step succeeds the previous step. Once you can relax without tensing your muscles first, it can also be useful to teach yourself to respond to instructions. An instruction could be “relax”. When you are feeling anxious and you say this to yourself, you probably will not experience any relaxation. You have to teach yourself to respond to these words; you can do this by relaxing, and then inhaling and exhaling and at the same time saying “relax” to yourself. Because you are already relaxed while saying “relax”, the brain remembers this nice feeling. After practicing a few times, the word “relax” takes on more meaning, and you relax more quickly when you say this to yourself. Try to practice this a few times a day. You can practice this while walking, showering, doing the dishes, studying or while eating. There are many situations during which you can pause to relax for a moment. Are you afraid you might forget? You can create an event in NiceDay that reminds you – for example in the morning, afternoon and evening – to practise relaxing.
Using the techniques
It is important to be aware that using these relaxation exercises will have the desired result the first few times. Do not be discouraged by this! You can set up reminders in NiceDay or discuss it with your therapist. Practice the learned skills regularly in daily life.
Together with your practitioner, you can create an Event in NiceDay and decide which days you want to practise the relaxation exercise. You don’t have to complete all the steps in one week, simply continue with the next step when you think you have mastered the first step.
Source: Keijsers, G. P. J., Van Minnen, A., Verbraak, M., Hoogduin, C. A. L. & Emmelkamp, P., (2017). Protocollaire behandelingen voor volwassenen met psychische klachten.