In traveling throughout the world, one thing I’ve noticed is that most people in industrialized countries are often in a state of mild to severe distress. Anxiety and insecurity are rampant. Yet, notable exceptions do exist, such as in Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. Their cultures of mutual support discourage distress and encourage eustress, meaning healthy tension.
As it turns out, stress itself is not inherently good or bad. Rather, stress is bad only to the degree that it decreases your ability to function. The more your ability to function is decreased, the more ill you are. Correspondingly, stress is good only to the degree that it increases your ability to function. The more your ability to function is increased, the more well you are.
For years now, the American Psychological Association has conducted an annual study titled “Stress in America” which has consistently shown that the majority of Americans are frequently in psychological distress. The fact that the term “stress”, in American culture, is assumed to be distress rather than eustress serves as an indication of just how prevalent distress is. So, the question naturally arises, how can you turn harmful distress into helpful eustress?
The answer is: by relaxing. Relaxing is the releasing of tension. It is the opposite of holding tension. If you are holding so much tension that it reduces your ability to function, increasing your wellness requires you to release that excess tension. If you are holding so little tension that it reduces your ability to function, increasing your wellness requires you to hold more tension.
Assuming that you are already holding more than enough tension, here are 5 steps for you to release that tension more easily and readily:
Step 1. Determine what it is that you wish to relax.
This may be a part of your body but could also be a specific thought pattern or emotional state.
Step 2. Tense up whatever you wish to relax as much as you can.
No, that was not a typo. A duration of 3 seconds tends to work well in most cases.
Step 3. Release the tension you just created as fully as possible.
Feels good, doesn’t it?
Step 4. Focus your awareness on what releasing the tension feels like.
Knowing exactly what it feels like allows you to better focus your awareness on recreating that feeling, rather than focusing your awareness on ideas of obligation or preference.
Step 5. Repeat steps 2 through 4 at least 9 times.
By repeatedly creating tension and feeling into its release, you train your nervous system how to relax that part of you, making it progressively easier for you to relax it at will.
Since you are the only person holding your own tension, you are the only person responsible for relaxing it. While it may at first appear convenient to blame others for not supporting you in the way that you wish to be supported, you are far more responsible for managing your tension than anyone else is. Using your mind to create “shoulds” and obligations for other people, to feel the way you want to feel as a result of their actions, is not only lazy; it’s disempowering and enables pervasive distress.
Let’s face it; it is your nervous system that you are feeling. It is your body; it is your mind; it is your heart. If you are holding excess tension, you have the power to release that tension far more than anyone else has the power to release it for you. By acknowledging your ability, you are able to acknowledge your responsibility more easily, both to yourself and to others.
Living a life free of distress is glorious! But it is up to you to enable yourself to live that life. It is up to you to hold on when it is healthy to hold on and let go when it is healthy to let go. And now you know how — to just… relax.
Erez Ascher is a systemic wellness advisor, advising individuals and organizations on how to create wellness (an increased ability to function) systemically (as a whole). His most recent book is titled "Feel. Love. Now... : Creating Stability and Wellness in the Whirlwinds of Change", offering his readers an 18-week training program to create systemic wellness physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. You can connect with Erez at https://ErezAscher.com.