There are many ways to add tension to life, from relentless busyness of packed schedules, to setting unrealistic expectations and views of oneself of others; the slight insults and miscommunications of daily life; the drive to succeed, accomplish, achieve; there's no time to rest or fully relax. The resulting, relentless momentum can hijack the outlets in life that should calm the mind; for example our exercise routines can be co-opted by feelings of "not doing enough" and guilt. Even our spiritual practices, such as meditation, can fall into the same stressful rut of "I'm not getting far enough, my mind is still wandering" and "what's wrong with me, why don't I do it more?" Nothing is more detrimental to spiritual growth than turning it into a chore driven by "shoulds" and striving agendas.
If we are to reduce our agitation, short tempers, and low thresholds for difficult emotions, we'll need more than therapy or spiritual practice, we'll also need self-soothing techniques. Self-soothing behaviors are natural, fun, often repetitive behaviors that focus the mind and allow us to achieve inner peace and quiet amidst those periods when we feel overwhelmed or emotionally strained. Self-soothing is different from addictions, as the latter create stress and shame, rather than relieve agitation; addictions separate us from others and result in low self-esteem, while self-soothing techniques are creative and never result in feelings of regret.
Of course, if we only turn to soothing behaviors, and never sit with underlying feelings and emotional energies that require attention, the desire to sooth itself can turn into an avoidance mechanism. But in balance with mindfulness and self-examination, soothing behaviors provide an easeful outlet to the pressures of life, allowing more fruitful and joyous ways to achieve serenity. And he more tools we have in our toolkit, the better.
So here are some ways to help ease tension:
Take a walk in a park;
Engage in a hobby that uses your hands (gardening, knitting, etc);
Cook or bake (especially try out a new recipe);
Take a long bike ride;
Watch comedy routines on youtube (I like louis ck, patton oswalt, amy schumer, jena friedman, Patric O'Neal, Doug Stanhope; etc);
Get a massage;
Write out anything you want, without any editing, in a journal;
Go to a sauna in the gym or the russian baths;
Eat healthy snacks that you enjoy (I go for the dried kale);
Drink a big cup of tea;
Get some sun;
Sing along with an old favorite song;
Take a nap in the sun;
Go to a movie;
Play a musical instrument;
Find an inspiring article on the web, read it and reflect;
Go to the most peaceful place in your neighborhood;
Call a friend and make a social plan;
Imagine talking to someone who cares about you;
Spend time with a pet;
Take a long hot bath;
Try very gentle yoga.