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Why Am I So Tense All the Time?

Do you find yourself striving for perfection? Does it feel like there’s always something more to do? That there’s never enough time in the day… Do you find it impossible to switch “off” and relax?

Tension doesn’t just arrive out of the blue. It’s built – and generally over a long period of time.

If you find yourself living in an almost constant state of tension, it’s time to ask yourself an important question: what’s driving it?

For many, it’s the pursuit of perfection… The drive to succeed, to be “the best”. The belief that happiness is just around the corner (so long as we reach our next goal, that is).

Not only is this pursuit fruitless – “perfect” simply doesn’t exist – but it’s also exhausting. 

When we’re living in permanent “chaser” mode, hankering after what comes next – we miss the moment. We’re going to find ourselves struggling to find contentment with what’s happening right now.

What’s more, it reaps havoc on our physical health. Chronic tension pushes our body into an almost constant state of “fight-or-flight” with heavy consequences (headaches, digestive issues, high blood pressure etc).

And our relationships suffer too. After all, who can connect with someone who can’t sit still – who isn’t actually present?

Feeling tense all the time – why do I feel like this?

This relentless drive to succeed (at any cost) is usually instilled in us from a young age. With tension comes expectation. And expectations tend to be internalised from the opinions and experiences of the people we grew up around.

Perfectionism is often a response to growing up in an environment based on conditional love. Perhaps your parents were cold and distant, and you only received care and attention when you achieved something or you behaved “perfectly” in their eyes.

Or maybe they were very goal-orientated themselves and there was a heavy emphasis on achievement at home. As children, we have a tendency to model what we see.

Or perhaps your parents were very critical, and nothing you could do was “good enough”. You’ve spent much of your adult life desperately attempting to prove them wrong.

In all these situations, perfectionism has become a strategy for connection. Instead of being valued for being you, you came to believe that value was something that had to be proved and earned (through success).

Signs of being uptight – what does perfectionism feel like?

1.You feel irritated and annoyed a lot of the time – you never feel like you’re doing enough so you’re plagued with frustration. This might extend to other people too – no one can meet your high standards.

2. You have unexplained physical symptoms – the body expresses tension in a myriad of ways: headaches, back/shoulder pain, skin issues, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), high blood pressure, difficulties sleeping…

3. You feel like there’s never enough time in the day – there’s so much to do and so little time… You feel constantly pressured by time – rushing from one thing to the next.

4. There’s no sense of silliness or “fun” – life is full of responsibilities and none of the good stuff.

5. You have an obsession with details – whether it’s the chicken you over-cooked last night or the waiter who took 5 mins too long, you feel angry and stressed when everything isn’t “just right”.

6. You give yourself a hard time and always feel like you could have done better – your standards are so high they might even be completely unattainable.

7. You feel “empty” and like something’s missing – maybe you try to cover up your feelings of low self-worth with success and fancy things, but no matter what, you’re always left with a sense that something’s missing.

How to stop being uptight and stressed

Perhaps you’ve achieved a lot, but at what cost? And how do you feel underneath it all?

In the drive for perfection we inevitably end up sacrificing a lot along the way. We might even be left with the feeling that life is passing us by… 

That’s not to say there aren’t some advantages – but the cost to our health, happiness and relationships will always be much greater than any of the benefits.

Perfectionism has been passed down by the generations before you – but it’s not your weight to carry. Shifting the focus to getting your deeper needs met – rather than the superficial ones – is going to help you gradually restructure your life in a way that allows space for fun, love and connection, bringing with it more lasting fulfilment.