In small doses, stress can help you overcome challenges. When stress becomes chronic, however, it’s less helpful and may leave you constantly feeling tense.

hand crushing raw egg, symbolic of squashing stressShare on Pinterest
Chris Connolly/Getty Images

Tension can be both a physical and psychological experience.

Your body and mind can enter a state of anticipation and suspense. You might feel like you know what’s going to happen — but not when — so your body prepares to react at any moment.

People who feel tense frequently tend to experience extreme guilt and shame about taking time to relax and be good to themselves.

Prolonged stress is known to increase the amount of inflammation in the body and this contributes to health issues.

Over time, the long-term tension can cause challenges like fatigue, muscle aches, and pain. Headaches and back pain are two of the most common symptoms of prolonged tension and stress.

Tension headaches are the most common form of headache, affecting approximately two-thirds of the general population.

Tension can present differently for everyone, but other common symptoms include:

  • chest pain
  • defensiveness
  • difficulty breathing
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • irritability
  • jaw stiffness
  • poor concentration
  • rapid pulse
  • stomach upset
  • sweating
  • teeth grinding

Tension itself is not a cause of mental health disorders.

Still, feeling tense to the point where it’s impacting your daily life or causing panic attacks may be a symptom of conditions like generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder.

What is tension, exactly?

Tension is often described as your response to physiological or physical pressure. Like pulling on opposite ends of a cord, pressure around you can make you feel stretched to capacity.

Tension is not a well-understood psychological state. It can be both positive and negative, much like stress itself.

A 2015 research paper on the theoretical framework of tension notes it’s an anticipatory emotional state which tends to be associated with:

  • conflict
  • dissonance
  • instability
  • uncertainty

If your circumstance isn’t reliable, this may be why you may feel tense all the time if you’re in an environment of chronic stress.

Under certain situations, however, like meeting a new love interest or watching a suspenseful movie, tension can create a yearning for a resolution, which isn’t necessarily negative.

Tension can come before major positive emotional experiences like joy or waiting to learn if you’ve made it to the top place on the competition podium.

Was this helpful?

If you’re often feeling tense, there are ways you can find relief at the moment and help prevent tension in the future.


There’s truth behind the adage “laughter is the best medicine.”

Research suggests laughing, as a positive sensation, can help you overcome stress by decreasing stress hormone levels in your bloodstream.

Need a quick laugh? Those funny animal videos on social media might do the trick.

Taking a nature walk

Feeling tense and have 20 minutes to spare? Taking time for a nature walk may help you feel better.

A 2019 study found a casual stroll out in a natural space can significantly lower your stress hormones.

If you’re living in the concrete jungle, you might be able to create your own nature space in a break area by adding plants or water features to stretch or practice restorative yoga.

Cultivating relaxation techniques

For long-term management of tension, you might benefit from acquiring relaxation skills like:

You can use these every day to help keep stress under control, but you can also use them at the moment if you’re feeling tense and anxious.

Finding physical outlets

Physical activity can encourage your body to produce feel-good chemicals called endorphins to combat stress. It may also help loosen up areas of the body where you unknowingly carry tension. Relieving whatever area of your mind or body carries tension is what’s at the foundation of self-care.

Physical outlets can be anything from sports and exercise to acupuncture and massage therapy.

Feeling tense can be momentary or long-term. It’s often the natural response to anticipation or suspense.

Over time, tension can impact you physically and mentally and is common among people who feel uncomfortable taking time to look after themselves.

If you’re constantly feeling tense, relaxation techniques, nature exposure, and humor are all ways you might be able to find relief. If you’re tense and you don’t know why or your coping techniques aren’t enough, finding the best avenue for therapy that suits you may be ideal.