The thing I probably suffer the most from is the inner tension that accompanies me most of the time. It is different from stress resulting from stuff you should do and do not get around to, because this kind of stress usually disssolves when you remove its source (by getting things done or postponing them, for instance). The tension I am talking about seems to come from within and magically increases during the day, even if I do not have straining things on my schedule. It is just there, and it is very uncomfortable to bear and leaves me exhausted and depleted after a few hours already. In consequence, I have very little energy, often cannot do the things I want to do, and feel helpless and frustrated a lot. The tension is very intrusive and always manages to capture my attention. I have not yet understood what exactly is behind it, but I consider it likely that emotional issues, negative convictions about myself and my coping capabilities, unrealistic expectations, and unpleasant body feelings are sources of it. The main experience of this tension is a feeling of being exhausted and restless at the same time. The tension serves as a major trigger for dysfunctional thoughts and unhealthy behaviors.
Taken together, it seemed like a good idea to turn towards the tension and look at it instead of avoiding it, which only exhausts me even more and does not work anyway. The husband has suggested that I track my tension levels across the day and note what I have been doing and how I have been feeling along with it, to get an overview of what I am dealing with and probably also to identify some patterns. This is what I have been doing recently.
~ tension chart ~
As you see, you simply draw the tension curve into an axis system, with time of day plotted on the x-axis and tension level on the y-axis (for example). The scaling of the tension goes as follows:
- o: sleep
- 1-30: sleepiness, tiredness, low activation
- 30-50: relaxation, wellbeing (corresponding to light, pleasant activities)
- 50-70: concentration, mental effort (corresponding to more difficult, demanding activities)
- 70-80: exhaustion, depletion of energy ressources, need for rest (critical stage)
- 80-90: complete exhaustion, clouded thinking, need for emergency strategies
- 90-99: inability to think and control one’s own actions, blackouts
- 100: mental breakdown
Asterisks mark negative, dysfunctional thoughts. In my case, these thoughts are mostly related to feeling helpless and incompetent, and to obsessing about food.
Below you can see my tension curves from some February days. The first one was a rather normal day.
This was a terrible day.
These two were again rather normal days, with the tension building up until midday and then staying on a rather high level.
This was another unhappy day.
As you can see from the curves, I am at a critical level or above for most of the time. In such a condition, just being (thus, bearing the unpleasant tension) is so exhausting already that I cannot function normally, and everything coming on top of it easily throws me off my feet. However, since I have been like this for many years, I am somewhat used to it and in part also able to do some things at a rather high level of tension. But still, doing my studies and finishing them successfully was only possible by using all those few little time windows allowing for concentrating on intellectual activities – probably two or three hours a day altogether, on a good day. For the rest of the time, I was more or less out of order and just tried to somehow make it through my day.
Tracking my tension levels gave me a better understanding of when I was able to do certain things, and what I was able to do or not to do. This again allowed for a more realistic planning of my daily activities.
Since I am limited in influencinge my inner tension intendedly, it helps me to distract myself so I am not so much aware of it all the time. Leisure activities are a pleasant source of distraction and therefore ease the tension a little or at least keep it from climbing higher, given the tension is not too high already. My favorite leisure activities are playing the piano, walking and listening to music along with it, reading blogs or books I am interested in, watching a movie, and spending time with my husband and my close friends. However, these activities become straining when the tension is above 75 or 80, and I cannot use them as ressources anymore then.
These are first of all things related to my work, which by nature affords concentration and is intellectually demanding. Mostly it consists of reaserching and reading articles and writing stuff. However, most social situations are also effortful for me because they call for functioning and being in a good mood. I can do these things up to a tension level of 65 or 70, but not above. Another kind of effortful activities is housework, which I can still do at a slightly higher tension level because I do not have to concentrate much when doing it.
Pure relaxation is difficult for me, because it usually means doing nothing in particular, so all my attention goes into how tense and unwell I feel. This again stresses me, so that trying to relax usually leads to an increase in tension.
Meals are tricky for me because they always lead to a rise in tension. So, I should not eat if my tension is higher than 75, otherwise I will easily get to a level at which I cannot regulate myself anymore. What is most stressful about meals is the feeling afterwards, because being full is one of the most aversive feelings for me, and having something in my tummy is uncomfortable already. To keep this unpleasantness as low as possible, I prefer to eat light, rather small meals that have to be nourishing and satisfying nevertheless, and I avoid eating many raw foods.
When I am at a high tension level of 80 or above, pleasant activities do not help me to feel better anymore. Then I need things that allow me to remain passive but are stimulating to attract my attention. This stimulation is preferably tactile; visual or auditory stimulation is less effective or even aversive. When Peter is here, he often gives me a massage on my ever-painful neck and shoulders, which calms me down and makes me feel better, and he has brought Igor the hedgehog ball that leaves a nice prickly feeling in your hands when you knead it. He also gave a me small hedgehog ball which I can take with me in my pocket when I leave the house.
Deep breathing is another thing that I have found to be very helpful, but it is nothing I can use directly after eating because you breathe deeply into your tummy, which increases the unhappy feeling of fullness. Sometimes I imagine the tension was flowing like sparks from my fingers and into the ground. Finally, since warmth and the sound of water always comfort me, I sometimes just curl up in the bathtub and let the hot water run down my back. These things help me to feel a little better, so that I can then continue with something that helps me to regulate myself at a lower level and go on somehow.
So these are the things I have understood and tried so far. The tension still is a problem and I still cannot deal well with it. So probably you have some more ideas? Do you suffer from high inner tension? If yes, what are your experiences with it? Have you ever tracked it? What have you found to be helpful in handling it?