Relief of Mental Tension
A noticeable feature of life to-day is the large number of people who experience and suffer mental tension. In all classes of society, in all walks of life, at all ages, we find men and women who are tense in themselves, tense in their work, and tense in their human relationships. This tension of mind and body occurs in all degrees from a mild "tautness of the nerves" to an incapacitating fear or panic. Much personal unhappiness and inefficiency are the inevitable consequences. It is impossible to achieve easiness of mind, balance and poise, and successful day-to-day activities, if our nervous energy is squandered on tension and anxiety. There is alleged to be much in the current mode of social life which leads to tension, but people are always apt to try to find the causes of mind troubles outside of themselves. We must remember that it is we who dictate our lives and that more frustrations arise from within ourselves than are imposed on us by outside influences. It is important to bear this in mind and, when we are subject to tension and anxiety, we should attempt to discover the causes within ourselves. These we can sometimes put right or at least make adjustments to- whereas it is often impossible to obtain a change in our circumstances to suit what are sometimes our special weaknesses.
Mental tension shows itself by an uneasiness or disquietude of mind and feelings. It may be present more or less continuously or may only arise under obvious environmental difficulties. It is accompanied by a tension of the muscles of the body which is quite perceptible and may even be mildly painful. We are all familiar with the furrowed brow, the frown, the rigid and tremulous limbs and the jerky movements of the tense person. Such muscle tension, spread throughout the body is apt to be perpetuated as a habit and often indeed persists during sleep. It leads to a constant leakage of nervous energy causing fatigue and in time exhaustion. It is a fact that excessively tense people tire quickly, and that they have to make almost violent demands upon themselves to accomplish quite simple tasks. They seem to be putting a great deal into their work and yet achieve little. It is a common fallacy that we do our best when we are " strung-up ": actually, it is the opposite: maximum output and best quality are accomplished only under conditions of a calm and untensioned nervous system.
A tension or anxiety state is really a state of diffuse fear. Occasionally, however, it may be so acute as to assume the proportion of a panic. Simple anxiety can arise, of course, in some situation which is a challenge to the individual, for example during an examination. One may regard that as a normal transitory reaction. When a person is in a state of more or less constant tension and apprehension, we must look for the cause in some submerged conflict within the mind- to some deep emotional insecurity. Anxiety is a symptom of some threat to the personality from within the mind. Disturbing emotions are being evoked which repercuss upon the working of all the body organs including the musculature. Emotions are the great driving forces of human activity, but we must learn, as we travel through life, how to use them properly, and to direct them constructively, not destructively. Emotions can destroy health of mind and body. The fretful, worrying, tense person is spendthrift of the creative force within him and he is taking great risks with his future organic well-being. Tense people can drive themselves into peptic ulcer and high blood pressure with all its consequences: they impose a great handicap upon their mental efficiency and happiness.
When I think of relaxation I think of cats!
Normally, in order to maintain our posture, certain groups of muscles are in a state of "tonus" or mild contraction. We are unaware of this muscle contraction in health, but, in tense anxious people, unnecessary groups of muscles go into contraction, especially in any situation involving emotional stress. There is a widespread muscular contraction and there is a vague consciousness of muscle tension. Moreover, the involuntary muscles of the heart, blood vessels and gastrointestinal tract may be involved if the mental stress be marked. It is a well-recognised phenomenon that under great fear, the pupils dilate, the heart beats faster, the stomach and intestinal movements are reduced or cease and the bladder loses its tone.
It is to be noted that voluntary muscles, while controlled by motor nerves from the brain, are also supplied with sensory nerves which pass to the brain. Thus excessive muscle tension leads to a continuous stream of sensory impulses of a mildly painful kind reacting on a mind that is already over-burdened under emotional stress. Also, it has been shown experimentally that there is no electrical activity in a healthy muscle at rest, but in tense subjects some activity is present even when the subject regards himself as relaxed.
Muscle tension is very marked in the respiration of anxious persons. Investigations have shown that the breathing is more shallow than in the case of normal people and the rate is irregular. This is noticeable even to the casual observer. Nervous people often sigh and yawn and breathe spasmodically.
With the acceptance that mind tension is closely related to muscle tension, it is reasonable to postulate that any methods of releasing the muscle tension will have a beneficial effect upon the mind tension. It may be suggested that mere rest and quiet should have the desired effect, but from observation we know that rest and quiet in a tense person does not necessarily lead to relaxation of tense muscles. Evidence of this is shown by the experience of many anxious people who wake up from sleep acutely aware of the painful or uncomfortable tensions in their muscles. What is required is a system or procedure which will enable true and complete muscle relaxation to take place, in this way removing both the effect and cause of mental tension. Such a technique of relaxation has been devised and, if practiced intelligently and diligently, can help that tense anxious person to a state of relative peace and calm. When a victim of tension learns for the first time that he can control his " nerves " by his own efforts, a wonderful improvement in morale takes place and there develops a new confidence, that will enable him to cope successfully with situations which previously provoked stress and anxiety.
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