Tension is in our DNA. It probably started as a warning system for our cave dwelling ancestors. They had to be ready to run or defend themselves if something was endangering their tribe. We still have those instincts, and sometimes they can be a lot stronger than they need to be.
The fight-or-flee system is a good one, but times have changed and we no longer need to be on edge every second of every day. If you are, it is going to cause you some difficulty either physically or emotionally, or both, and will make life less enjoyable. Here are some things you can do to lower your tension level and help you cope.
- If you are having a difficult discussion and tension starts to climb, take a break. Give yourself an hour to calm down, so you can think clearly, and when you return to the conversation, keep the volume and emotions in check. If you still find that you can’t let go of the negative emotions, allow yourself to sleep on it and try again in the morning. Doing this can give you a fresh perspective.
- Don’t let your upsets fester. If you are feeling put upon and like you just can’t take any more, tell someone. If no one is available to talk to, write down your feelings. It’s a great way to release the bad ones and gain a fresh perspective. Sometimes an even better alternative is to face the upsetting person or problem head-on and deal with it. The sooner you get it healed, the less time you will spend feeling uncomfortable.
- Learn not to wear yourself out. When you are tired, it makes doing even the simplest things a bit harder, and you also get cranky. It is wise to take a break when you are having a difficult time dealing with all that you have on your plate. Making a list of your tasks for the day can be helpful, and if you don’t accomplish everything, you can take care of it the following day. Putting “take a break” on your list is also a good idea. There is enough time to get it all done. Just don’t waste your time feeling pressured.
- Avoid rumination. Negative thoughts can take over your life if you let them. When you find yourself sitting (or lying) down consumed by troubling thoughts, you have to get up and change your physical space, so you can change the mental one too. Just going outside and taking three deep breaths can help. Then you should find one constructive thing to do around the house or at your desk, and do it.
- Rely on your friends, but don’t overburden them. Talking to someone who believes in you can help, but when you relieve your own tension by venting to a good buddy, you can burn that person out. Just remember that your friends have lives too.
These tips will help, so use them. Things will change, as they always do. Trust that you are a good person, and goodness will return to your life.
Dr. Barton Goldsmith, a psychotherapist in Westlake Village, is the author of “The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time.” Follow his daily insights on Twitter at @BartonGoldsmith, or email him at Barton@bartongoldsmith.com.