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Living with Tension

Does tension have to be a good or bad thing? or is there somewhere in the middle where tension is part of a design that tells us there is something to listen to, our body’s way of saying… “pay attention!”

Do you remember Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? There is a moment where he gets to the edge of a cliff and he has people with guns chasing him. This is definitely a tense moment (aided and abetted by the music and camera angles obviously!) What did he need to do in this moment to ease his tension? He needed to take a step into the abyss below and … low and behold… a bridge appeared beneath him to guide him to safety on the other side of the chasm below. What on earth was he doing taking a step into an abyss you might ask? A little note on the wall! So perhaps, this article could be a little note on the wall for you – certainly not a life or death situation like our all-star Indiana… or is it…?!

Do we even notice our own tension? Sometimes it can be such a normal part of our lives that we don’t notice it till someone asks if we are OK and even then, the rote answer trips off our tongues before we have actually stopped to consider if the answer is true.

It can start with a nagging a sense of being ill-at-ease, or off-centre, an internal vibration or a ‘push-me-pull-you’ from a body that never truly switches off – even when sleeping. It can feel like you are living life on the edge of an abyss and as much as you think you are getting yourself steady, being on the edge is impacting you. There can be no visible outplay or perhaps a give-away twitching leg muscle (but then, everyone’s leg twitches doesn’t it?). This tension can easily go unnoticed or be normalised as ‘life’.

Then, there is the tension people do pay attention to, the one that can feel like a very real panic attack, where your heart feels like it is being crushed, with no ability to take a breath because your lungs feel they are compressed and there is just no space for more air. It can be terrifying.

Either way, tension is tiring.

Yet there is so much distraction in life, it can be ignored to a large degree and let’s be honest, there are a wealth of industries just waiting to distract us from that uncomfortable feeling – the food, liquor, gaming, media industries to name but a few.

This is not just about us though, is there consideration for how tension plays out in families? Not only might we be missing out on true connection time with each other when we are constantly tense and just trying to keep up or push through, but we might also be teaching our children that life is hard, and tension is a normal part of being an adult. Not very attractive or empowering.

So how do we address the tension that threatens to engulf? Just in case tension is also present due to financial considerations, here are some suggestions that do not cost any money – just your very own ‘Indiana Jones’ moment.

Breathing!! Yep – inhale, exhale – you may be surprised at how our breathing is affected when tension dominates. Feel your body as you breath in and out – just get familiar with it and make it a focus as many times in your days as you can. No pictures – just get to know how you breath. The more you connect with your body on that simple level, the more your body will communicate and bring itself back into a more settled state – after all, that is its primary objective!

Walking – bring that spring into your step. Experiment with how you walk, are you walking like you have pancakes for feet or do you feel the different parts of your feet as you walk and take off from the bouncy ball of your feet? Give it a go, your playful attention to walking with a bounce, offers a settlement that feeds back into the nervous system and can settle the body. You are not walking like you are on a po-go stick, but walking with a focus to reconnect with your body so it can, once again, bring itself back to its natural settled state.

Sleeping – another under-rated aspect to easing tension. Sleep is not just crashing into bed to relieve the tension through unconsciousness (although this may be where you need to start…) but preparing for bed in a way that consciously recognizes it is a healing and nurturing experience. Like driving a car and coming to a stop at a traffic light, go from green to amber to red and feel your body feel more settled, less exhausted but very ready for sleep. Parent yourself as you have your newborn baby – you have a lived experience of what worked and what didn’t, so now you apply that same model to yourself.

Humour – Laughter releases endorphins and intensity – all that pressure from tension gone in a great explosion of air! Laughing also helps to re-direct the focus of attention away from ‘all you have to do’ and the seriousness of not doing it, to just being in the moment. Take care with humour not to diminish yourself or another though, or you could end up faced with another abyss of explosive tension!

Don’t take constant worry as normal, because it isn’t. Your body is trying to come back to a state of ease and from there use tension as an early warning signal about things to pay attention to. Let’s take a moment of pause to get back to a much simpler way of living that acts like a vaccine against what feels like a pernicious normal-life virus – let’s not make it part of our parenting foundation.


Further reading


Ease, un-ease and disease - an interview about tension!


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