Have you ever been in the middle of a conflict where someone says, “Oh come on, just let it go.” Your fists are clenched, steam is coming out of your ears, you can almost feel the top of your head about to explode and someone is telling you to just let it go, as if all you have to do is go, “OK,” and the anger will dissolve, and everything will be all right. I actually have a problem, probably from my childhood, where when someone tells me to let go, or relax, I get even crazier.
Of course, not everyone feels anger in the same way. Sometimes it hides in the breath, the shoulders, the jaw. And letting go of that tension is about as impossible as stopping your emotion in the middle of an argument. Many studies have shown that anger, both expressed and repressed, affect our health. The latest studies however, show that holding anger is worse.
Some people are so good at holding in their anger, they don’t even know they are angry, according to Psychology Today. So how do you let go if you don’t even know you are holding on?
Here are a few ways to investigate and perhaps free yourself from the physical effects of holding on and holding in.
1) Where am I holding?
We get so used to the tension we carry, we don’t even realize it’s there till something hurts. Pick a part of yourself: Your shoulders, your jaw, your buttocks, or another part that’s easy for you to sense. Now intentionally tense that area. As you are holding, maintain an easy breath for at least five breaths. Then let it go. Does it feel different? If so, you may have some holding going on there. Intentionally tensing a part of yourself creates a wish to relax. Moshe Feldenkrais called this supporting the habit. A paradox, yes, but its a path to letting go.
2) Feel your face
Close your eyes a moment and sense your face. This is not easy in our visual culture. Notice your eyes, nose and mouth. Are the corners of your mouth turned up or down? Are your teeth together or apart? Is there tension in your eyes or forehead? Now imagine that your entire face is widening. In your imagination, the corners of your mouth move softly towards your ears. Imagine the corners of your eyes moving out, your cheeks moving out so that the whole face softens outward. Notice your breath, your thoughts. Now imagine the opposite. Don’t do anything, but just sense the muscles of your face coming together, narrowing. Your eyes narrow, your lips come inward. Once again, notice your breath. Go back to the widening feeling. Then just let it go and feel your face again. Open your eyes, stand up and see if anything else feels different.
Emotions are part of every cell in your body. By paying attention to your tensions, you can become more aware of your emotional life as well.