Tension

Take a deep breath. Relax your shoulders; let them drop. Unset your jaw. Exhale. Listen. Unwind. Be still.

About three years ago I chipped my front tooth biting a pen at work. Later, I chipped that tooth again on a piece of pizza– really, just pizza. It turns out, I grind my teeth at night, making the thinner front teeth cracked and weak. I wear a night guard when I sleep now to protect my teeth from each other. I still grind them, it’s just that now the forces are diffused across a broader surface and the damage that occurs is mostly to the guard and not my teeth. Sometimes I wake up with jaw pain.

I started going to a chiropractor last year after experiencing some troubling back and chest pain. I’d never been before so she had to talk me through each step. She checked my posture and alignment, adjusted my back and neck, and sent me for x-rays. Nothing major was wrong, I just have tight muscles and sit at a desk every day with poor posture, staring at a computer screen. I go to see my chiropractor every three weeks now for an adjustment and every single time she has to remind me to loosen up. She tells me to drop my shoulders, rest my neck, relax.  Relax.

My body is in constant tension. I actually have to concentrate on letting my muscles release.

If I’m concentrating on a task at work or feeling stressed, my whole body tenses and when I finally extract myself, my neck aches and my backs twinges and my limbs protest at any attempt for fluid movement. Even when I’m resting, my shoulders are pulled up toward my ears, just the slightest bit, and my jaw is tightly set. I crack my knuckles and crane my neck. I have to tell myself to relax, and then focus on letting each muscle loosen and slacken.

It’s as if my whole body is on constant alert, ready for fight or flight, not trusting the world to keep me safe.

Last night, Chad and I were watching an easy-going couple renovate their house on some HGTV show, and Chad said to me, “We’d be like that if we were in that situation.” And I quickly replied, “Oh no we wouldn’t. We want to be like that, but we’re not. We’re stressers. We’re high-strung.”

I think my body is on constant alert, because my mind is on constant alert. What’s going to go wrong next? How can I get everything done? What if…?

Take a deep breath. Relax your shoulders; let them drop. Unset your jaw. Exhale. Listen. Unwind. Be still. Stop worrying. Let go.

I have trouble with these things, so I have to repeat them like reminders, like a mantra. In the end, it comes down to trust, I think. Can I trust that everything will be okay? Can I just God will take of me? Can I trust that if I loosen my grip, things won’t all fall apart? I wonder if things do fall apart whether or not I’ll be able to pick up the pieces again.

So it’s a daily practice for me, in mind and body, to relax, to loosen up, to diffuse the tension I feel, inside and out. I think about my jaw a lot now. I unclench it, wiggle it around, rub the muscles behind my cheeks. I think about my back and neck at work. I pull my head into alignment, move my computer closer so I don’t crane my neck, drop my shoulders. For my mind, it’s different. I have to pause my brain, concentrate on not worrying, not stressing, not assuming the worst. Pray. It’s an almost constant exercise in letting go. Sometimes I am miserable at it, and I panic and ache. Sometimes I succeed and things feel lighter, and I imagine God saying, Good job, let me handle that.

I have responsibilities and passions and deadlines and worries, but letting those things take over mean I don’t have room be flexible, compassionate, easy-going, caring. Worrying pushes faith out of the way to concentrate on itself. It’s unhealthy and unhelpful, so I keep fighting it with my body and my mind.

Take a deep breath. Relax your shoulders; let them drop. Unset your jaw. Exhale. Listen. Unwind. Be still. Stop worrying. Let go. Have faith.


6 thoughts on “Tension

  1. I am the same way. Frank is the most relaxed person I’ve ever met. I ask him how he does it. He just says, “God has it and things are the way they are.” I know I struggle with trust. It is a lesson I’m constantly learning. Thanks for sharing this. Sometimes it is comforting to know I’m not the only one working out this trust journey, that it isn’t always so natural.

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    1. Not at all natural for me! Chad and I always talk about different the ways we react to things, because he gets stressed about things that can be fixed, and I stress about things that are out of my control. So it’s an interesting difference. He figures if he can fix something then it is his responsibility to do that and that can stress him out. I figure if I can fix it, then it’s not stressful, I’ll just fix it. It’s when it’s out of my control that I start freaking out!

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  2. You’re right, I do want to be that no stress, laid back couple. I think I want so much for things to be good, better, really, not because I’m unhappy with how things are, but because I’m afraid if I don’t always try to make things better, they’ll get worse, or that no one else will. I’m afraid that if I “Let Go and Let God”–don’t you just love Christian bumper sticker sayings?–that things won’t be as good as they could be. But I have to remind myself that it’s quite possible that I’m not quite as good at making things better as I’d like to believe. It’s a lesson in humility for me, as in, who do I think I am that I can magically make everything better? And, who appointed me saviour of the world? No one, that’s who. So I do need to stop trying so hard and relax. Things will be all right.

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  3. Great reminder, Jamie. Most of us struggle with some, if not all, of these things. My biggest issue is not allowing my mind to take me to assumptions that are not true. I have to keep reminding myself to find out facts before I make decisions.

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