Relaxation refers to the voluntary letting of tension. This tension can be physical tension in the muscles, or mental, psychological tension. More often than not, mental tension is connected with physical tension. During relaxation, the nerves in the muscles send different signals to the brain and this in turn brings about a feeling of calmness, both physically and mentally.
When people have been under stress for long periods of time, or when they have not taken time off from work and other activities, they rarely allow their muscle tension to decrease. As a result, tension tends to stay with them for longer and longer periods. Eventually, they become so used to having tense muscles that this tense state becomes “normal”. They may not even realise they are tense, and if they do, they find it very very hard to relax the tension away without help.
Heightened levels of muscle tension can interfere in all areas of a person’s life. It can hinder them performing daily tasks and other normal activities. As mental tension, such as anxiety is related to the expression of physical tension, one type of tension is likely to cause more of the other and vice versa. Therefore, people with heightened muscle tension, tend to describe feeling jumpy, irritable, nervy, anxious and apprehensive. People with mental tension (e.g., anxiety), tend to describe feeling tense muscles and other related physical symptoms (e.g., headaches, backaches).
It is important to learn the difference between tension that is useful for you and tension that is unnecessary. In fact, a lot of everyday tension is unnecessary. Only a few muscles are involved in maintaining normal posture, such as sitting or walking. Occasionally though, an increase in tension is extremely beneficial. For example, it is usually helpful to tense up a bit before a competition, job interview or exam. This tension keeps you keen and alert. Tension that interferes in your daily life is not useful and it is important to both recognise this, as well as learn how to relax and gain some control over this mental and physical tension.
If you liked this post then have a read of progressive muscle relaxation.