I just got back from a bicycling and camping vacation in North Carolina, where it was a little warmer and a lot sunnier than it has been at home for months. In fact, I wasn’t really in shape for this three-day event because the cold, rain and snow that has persisted into our Maryland spring has also cut into my motivation to get out and ride. That had me a little worried!
Our first day’s ride did turn out to be a little tough, mostly due to the strong headwind we encountered. Even so, it was beautiful. I was pretty tired out by the end of the ride, but by the next morning my legs felt surprisingly good.
Midway through that second day’s ride, though, my quadriceps began to really hurt, and I questioned my ability to finish the route. Then I noticed how I was holding my quadriceps muscles in an isometric contraction- the kind you might do if you were holding a squat position, or lifting a heavy box.
A Wonderful Thing Happened
When I focused on relaxing those muscles while continuing to pedal, a wonderful thing happened. My legs no longer hurt so much. It turned out to be possible to release the excessive isometric tension and have an enjoyable ride.
Maybe I relaxed those quads only partially. For all I know, some isometric contraction is needed to power a pedaling motion. All I can be sure of is that I relaxed them enough to feel and function better.
Many other times I’ve caught myself hunching my shoulders or tensing my arms while riding, which uses up energy and makes those muscles awfully sore, without doing me any good! I’m going to pay attention to this in future rides. And the principle involved might also apply other situations here I might be wasting energy in unnecessary tension.
I’m thinking of those times when I worry too much.
What, Me Worry?
Worry is neither good or bad. It can be a signal that helps us prepare for the risks or threats we might face. But too much of it can create physiological and emotional stress. It can get in the way of our doing our best. It can keep us from enjoying the moment, tire us out or keep us from offering our best.
What if We Could Relax Our “Worry Muscle?”
I have a meeting coming up that gets my worry muscle all tensed up. It will involve a conversation that I wish I didn’t have to hold. It’s is likely to be difficult, and the likely outcome is one I hope to avoid, but fear I cannot.
I have to have the discussion, and I can’t do my best in the meeting if my “worry muscle” is in knots.
I want to bring my most confident, present, open and thoughtful self to this meeting. I am more likely to be able to do that by relaxing my “worry muscle.” Here’s how I’ll do that.
Deep breathing. I take three deep, slow breaths. I inhale fully and then fully exhale. That gets a physiological relaxation response going.
Visualizing. While continuing to breathe in this way, I picture myself in the meeting, remaining calm and confident. I imagine myself listening carefully to the others involved, and saying what I need to say clearly, calmly and firmly.
Preparing. After doing that, both body and mind feel more at ease. I am able to think more clearly and focus on doing some planning.
I realize that while I can’t control the ultimate outcome, I can relax my “worry muscle.” When I do that, I can be more calm, relaxed, present and engaged during the meeting. That in itself is a good result.
Bringing My Best Self
Letting my “worry muscle” relax frees up energy that I can use to think things through. I have set an intention to listen carefully and openly to others’ views and to speak from my own perspective. I have clarified what I am willing to negotiate and on which points I will stand firm. I am feeling confident and able to stand in my power.
I’m in a better place to handle the challenge facing me because I have taken steps that shifted my physiological and emotional state from stressed to calm, which lets me do my best thinking..
What about you? What are your most effective ways of relaxing your worry muscle?
Wehrebberg, M. (n.d.), Stress solutions. Ten effective strategies to eliminate your stress. Available at www.margaretwhehrenberg.com