Thursday, December 1, 2022

Really Tense? Try Cathartic Stress Release


In the last couple of columns I have discussed mild and moderate forms of Release to get rid of the by-products of your stress response (blood sugars, hormones, muscle tension, and high blood pressure) in healthy ways. In this column I want to discuss Cathartic Release strategies. Cathartic physical activities are maximum-effort, explosive activities that counter the effects of stress the same way vigorous activities do: they fully contract and relax your tense muscles, use the energy mobilized during the stress response in a productive way, and shift your attention away from our problems and onto something productive. In addition to this, cathartic activities provide a dramatic and immediate stress-releasing effect.                     

Maximum effort activities can involve a single repetition or be continuous. During a single repetition activity you put all of your effort into one movement. Performing a bench press for one repetition using the heaviest weight you can press safely is a good example. You warm up, get under the bar, and use all of your available effort to do the one repetition.
     Other single repetition activities don’t have to be as strenuous. Driving a golf ball is a good example. Think about going to a golf range and driving golf balls. You tee the ball up, focus your attention on your balance and staying loose, draw the club back up and over your shoulder and quickly swing down and through the ball. At the moment of impact you can tell if the hit is solid and true. You can hear the sound of the club head meeting the ball and feel the tension flow down your neck, shoulders and arms and out with the ball as it flies through the air. Athletes from all sports can relate to the feel (and also the sound) of a solid hit whether it is a golf ball, a tennis ball coming off the sweet spot on the racket, or a baseball coming off the fat part of the bat.

In all three cases there is a physical and emotional release of stress. The explosion of power as you swing through the struck object provides an immediate release of built-up muscle tension and nervous energy. There is also an immediate emotional response as you feel good about the act. Your mind is diverted from whatever is causing you stress and your focus is shifted off of your problem and onto focusing on the activity.

During continuous motion the idea is to use a short burst of maximum intensity activity to release your stress. Sprinting is the perfect example. If you are a swimmer you warm up and at some point dedicate a lap or stretch of open water to an all-out effort. You take a breath, keep your head in the water, and swim as fast as you can for the distance only coming up at the end to gulp some air and recuperate. If you are a runner you would just take off at some point after warming up and run as fast as you can over a short distance. When I do this I usually do one lap in the pool and about 50 yards when running. Remember, the idea is maximum effort over a short distance for stress management.                        

The last way to use catharsis to release stress occurs is sexual. Having an orgasm is another form of cathartic release. While all aspects of sexual arousal and pleasuring can be physically and emotionally satisfying, the actual release of tension occurs during the orgasm phase of sexual response. During orgasm most male and female sexual body parts undergo rhythmic, muscular contractions releasing pent-up muscular tension in men and women. In addition, the involuntary muscular contractions triggered during orgasm have a cascading effect throughout your entire body that releases stress.

Finding a couple of different forms of cathartic release will expand your coping repertoire and give you more options for releasing the energy and tension associated with the stress response when mild, moderate, or vigorous activities are not enough. The following exercise, Release Stress through Catharsis, is designed to explore different forms of cathartic release.


1. Read through the list of cathartic physical activities.

  •   Driving golf balls at a range.
  •   Dancing to fast, up-tempo music.
  •   Hitting baseballs in a batting cage.
  •   Serving tennis balls on an empty court.
  •   Drumming on Djembe, conga, or bongo drums.
  •   Kicking soccer balls into an empty net.
  •   Punching or kicking a heavy bag.
  •   Skydiving.
  •   Bungee jumping.
  •   Sprinting as fast as you can for 100 yards.
  •   Skiing a very steep downhill slope fast.
  •   Bench pressing your maximum weight for one repetition.
  •   Having an orgasm.

2. Choose one activity that appeals to you.

3. Be sure to check with your doctor if it is an activity that is contraindicated by any pre-existing health problem you have.

4. Try the activity at some point during the week when other forms of activity are not enough to release your stress.

Remember; this is just a partial list. There are probably other activities that you enjoy that are not on this list. What other cathartic activities work for you in releasing your stress?   In my next column I’ll introduce my favorite line of defense, Rethink. It uses the power of your mind to change the way you think about stress. Until then, remember to stress less and live more.

P.S. My Release Video Home Study Program covers all of my Release techniques. Check it out at:

Dr. Rich Blonna is an expert in understanding how the mind and body work together in creating and managing stress. He is the author of several stress self-help books and courses and the popular college textbook, Coping With Stress in a Changing World 5th Ed; McGraw-Hill Publishing. He is a retired Professor Emeritus from William Paterson University in New Jersey. For over 25 years he has devoted himself to helping people just like you stress less and live more.

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