Reality Check: Tension

In his book, Counseling with Choice Theory, Dr. Wm. Glasser describes his first meeting with a guy he calls Jerry. When Jerry walked into Glasser’s office for their first session, he avoided walking on the lines in the carpet. Then Jerry straightened the pictures on Glasser’s office walls, and chose a more uncomfortable chair than the one that was obviously meant for him.
People use various labels to describe those types of actions. Labels aside, at the least, we’d likely see that behaviour as unusual and probably unhelpful for Jerry. This isn’t bringing joy to Jerry, nor is it helping him make and keep friends.
Jerry described a meeting with a woman he liked where he had done some excessive hand-washing. He wasn’t happy about that and didn’t believe that he had chosen to do it; Jerry said he couldn’t help it.
Given that Glasser developed something called “Choice” Theory, it’s no surprise that Glasser views most behaviours as chosen. That is, Jerry chooses to do what he does, regardless of whether the actions seem odd or unhelpful to us (or even to him.)
It’s one thing to say, “We choose our behaviours” but it’s quite another thing to change them, even when we want to. Ask anyone with a nervous habit: nail-biting, hair twirling, knee-bouncing or pen-clicking. The suggestion that we are choosing our behaviour doesn’t mean it’s easy to stop!
A particularly helpful part of this story is when Glasser refers to some of Jerry’s behaviour as tension release. That insight could help us choose some practical actions that directly apply to the current situation.
During these unusual times of lockdowns and restrictions, a lot of the activities that people often use to reduce tension aren’t available. Simple every-day actions such as going to the gym, getting your hair done, going out to dinner, walking on the beach, visiting friends, and hugging either have been or still are off the table.
We might not think of those actions as tension release. However, when we do these things, we satisfy our basic needs. Visit someone we like? We satisfy our need for belonging. Play games, exercise, or (for some) go shopping? We satisfy our need for fun.
Many of our regular activities satisfy our basic needs. They reduce dissatisfaction and release tension.
When our needs are not satisfied, we feel off-kilter, frustrated, in pain. It might be hard to put a finger on exactly why we are dissatisfied. But when we aren’t able to find ways to get our needs satisfied, we’re not happy!
Routines have changed for many of us. Perhaps you are spending more time with the people you love. That’s great, but it doesn’t mean that every moment is filled with joy, does it? Or you might have more leisure time than usual, and you’re puzzled as to why you are not happier about that.
If you find that you are more on-edge than usual, it may be worthwhile to deliberately look at what you are doing, and not doing, to release some of your physical tension. What did you do during normal times when you felt tense? If those activities are now restricted, can you find substitutions?
I’m certainly not suggesting that you relieve tension by avoiding walking on lines in the carpet or compulsively straightening other people’s pictures! And what might have been considered compulsive handwashing a few months ago has now become societally-approved practice.
However, if you’ve recently been feeling unsatisfied and out of sorts, it might be worthwhile to look at what you are doing now that’s different than before. Are you still finding ways to fulfill your needs and relieve the tension that could be coming along with a now-disrupted routine?
What do you do to relieve tension?

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