Stressful situations and the unpleasant feelings that go with them (such as worry, frustration, fear, anger) trigger what we call the “fight or flight response”.
In the Stone Age, if our ancestors suddenly encountered a saber-toothed tiger while picking berries, they would have had to be on high alert to save their lives. A saber-toothed tiger was a deadly threat to humans.
The possibilities to get out of this situation alive were to fight the tiger or to flee, by running away fast or climbing a tree. Each of these options required a lot of strength, quick thinking, and alertness.
So, with practice, our ancestors’ bodies learned to release special hormones super fast whenever they were in life-threatening situations, like the tiger. These hormones cause the muscles to become tense, so they could fight or flee in the best way possible.
After the human escaped the life-threatening situation (like a saber-toothed tiger), their muscles could relax again.
When you get into a stressful situation, your body does exactly the same thing as the bodies of our ancestors: It engages the “fight or flight response” because our bodies see stress as a threat.
BUT, a few things are quite different today. Most things that stress us out are not life-threatening. So, you don’t have to fight your teacher or run away from a class assignment. Yet, your body still automatically becomes tense to get you ready for action, and this tension does not go away right away.
In this situation, you experience stressors in the environment (like the tiger!) and in your body (like pain) very intensely. You then perceive tension in your neck or forehead as a headache. When you are relaxed or not really paying attention to your body, you probably wouldn’t even notice this muscle tension.
You can’t shut the response off, because we NEED it for true danger… But you can try to trick it!
There are two things you can do: