Trauma release is the opposite of the stress response.
Nature loves a balance, and you are a part of nature. Since stress is a natural part of life, it makes sense that you also have a relaxation reflex to help you rebalance.
Our bodies respond to stress by increasing stress hormones. This gets our heart rate up, breathing going, and pumps the blood to our vital organs. If you were getting chased by a tiger, you can see how such an instinctive response would be useful — you’ve got to run!
However, with modern stressors, your body still has the same physiologic response, but you may not need to physically run (although you may feel like it). For example, if you’re stressed about paying your bills, you might just be sitting at a desk staring at your computer. That’s not a great way to discharge the stress response.
What you need is a way to access your natural trauma release mechanism.
To do so, it’s going to be important to pay attention to your body. After all, that’s where the releasing reflex lives.
What does trauma release look like?
Stress and trauma release can come in various forms.
When tension builds up, it’s natural for the body to literally shake it off afterwards. Animals do this instinctively. For example, dogs often start shaking immediately when startled by a thunder storm.
Humans also have this built-in “shake-it-off” reflex. Maybe you’ve had nervous jitters before public speaking or in times of great grief, fear, excitement, or anger. Have you ever bounced your knee up and down or seen someone do it? What did you think when that happened?
Due to social and cultural reasons, people tend to suppress this natural calming response. If you think of shaking or trembling, you might think it sounds strange or is a sign of weakness or that something is wrong.
However, now that you know that shaking is a reflexive response, if you ever feel like your body wants to do it, see if you can let it. You may feel more comfortable doing this in a space that feels safe and peaceful.
Crying is a healthy response to stress. The tears are cleansing. If you are able to allow yourself to cry freely, without trying to stop the tears, this can have a calming effect on the nervous system.
Letting your body do what it naturally wants to do can have incredible balancing effects. Sometimes, you might feel like shutting down the tears, which can create a tug-of-war with the body. There are times when you might feel it is not appropriate to cry. That’s O.K.
Gently, as you are able, see if you can give yourself the time and space to allow tears to flow freely.
Even yawning is a form of release. It encourages the body to take a deep breath in. I’ve seen this come up occasionally in the trauma release workshops that I teach.
Laughing is one of the best medicines. It’s a wonderful way to release stress, whether it’s a nervous laugh or a full deep-belly laugh. The movement of laughter gets your breath moving and wakes up your body.
Ever felt like sighing? Chances are the tension in your body was starting to build up. Your body then reacts naturally with a sigh which is a kind of release breath.
All of the above encourage the body to breathe. When the breath gets stuck, so do our thoughts, emotions, and body. By encouraging the breath to calm and relax and move freely, so can you think more clearly, feel more freely, and move more easily.
Is trauma the same as stress?
In short, yes.
Everyone experiences some kind of trauma, whether big or small. Often, people think of trauma as something big, such as the death of a loved one, murder, or rape.
However, there are many situations that you may not necessarily think of as “traumatic” but are a significant stress.
Take puberty, for example. For some lucky people, it could be thought of as a smooth, happy time. For others, it can be viewed with shame and embarrassment. It’s not always the incident that determines if something is stressful, it’s the experience of it.
What is trauma?
Trauma is any stressful incident that is a perceived as a threat to your life, your body, or your emotional well-being.
We can further divide trauma into three categories based on timing:
Acute trauma occurs as a single event, such as a car accident or mugging.
Chronic trauma, occurs repetitively over time. The effects are cumulative and more complex than acute trauma. Chronic trauma could be due to an ongoing stress (such as a chronic disease or financial stress) or multiple incidences (such as ongoing abuse or recurrent bullying).
Developmental trauma is a significant adverse event that occurs early in childhood from conception to age 2 or 3, or before a child can speak and think rationally. Trauma during such crucial years can actually physically alter the development of the brain.
Developmental trauma and its effects are well-documented in the Adverse Childhood Experiences study.
The developing brain is flooded with stress chemicals that interfere with normal attachment to parents or other caregivers. Furthermore, often the parents are also under a huge amount of stress and may not be able to respond to the child’s needs.
The small child with developmental trauma does not have the chance to form secure family relationships. This pattern of insecure relationships can continue throughout life unless adequately addressed.
As the child grows, the development of higher brain functions, such as evaluating experiences or using moral judgment, can also be compromised.
However, because the trauma cannot be recalled (since it occurred before conscious thought), developmental trauma may go “unseen.”
What causes trauma?
A stressful or intensely negative event that leaves a lasting impression on a person’s physical, mental, or emotional stability.
Causes of trauma include
- Rape or incest
- Witnessing an act of violence
- Natural disasters
- Domestic violence
- Severe illness or injury
- The death of a loved one
- Parental abandonment
But not all trauma is extreme. General daily stress can feel traumatic over time. Normal responsibilities can feel overwhelming.
For example, becoming a new parent can be a huge stressor but is a considered a normal part of life. A big argument with a neighbor could feel traumatic.
Your experience of your life matters. There’s not necessarily a right or wrong perspective. It depends on what’s true for you. Your body does not judge you. Your body simply responds to how you perceive things.
When an experience is too intense, then the fight/flight/freeze kicks in to protect you. If this pattern gets stuck, then the negative effects of trauma start to play out.
How can trauma affect people?
The body keeps the score of everything that has happened in your life, including everything you’ve thought and felt.
If you have a chance to rebalance soon after a trauma, then the effects of the trauma could be minimal.
If you are overwhelmed with your experience and your associated thoughts and feelings are not fully processed, then the body holds on to them. Your body continues to run the physiology as if it were still in the trauma. You may feel crazy, but you’re not. It’s due to the stuck physiology. In this case, you are at risk for the following:
Unprocessed or incompletely processed traumas are tucked away and remain as a tension somewhere in the body.
Tension in the body blocks flow. This block in flow can occur in various degrees at many levels, interfering with the physiology as well as optimal mental-emotional function.
Stuck in fight or flight
The nervous system can get stuck in “fight or flight.” The fight or flight response is a normal stress reflex which helps you if you need to run or fight in a life-threatening situation.
This is a state of “high alert” and anxiety. It’s as if everything looks like a fire or danger. You may feel like running away from regular life (flight) or be overly argumentative or aggressive (fight).
When you’re in constant “fight or flight,” it can be difficult to sleep or think rationally.
If you are completely overwhelmed, then the “freeze” response can take over. In this case, you can feel “spaced out” or “numb”. Perhaps, you don’t want to get out of bed or participate in daily life activities.
This is a protective mechanism to shield yourself from the emotional impact.
Freeze is part of a stress response. Animals do this, too, as a last resort by playing dead to avoid being eaten by a predator.
The freeze response involves disassociating from the body in order to cope with the intensity of the danger. However, getting stuck in this state is not sustainable for your overall health and wellbeing.
Sometimes, a traumatized person can wobble between the freeze state and the fight or flight state. For example, a person may go from extremely angry and yelling to depressed and comatose within short periods of time.
Stuck trauma also affects the energetic flow because it takes energy for the body to compartmentalize the trauma. There is nothing inherently wrong with tucking a trauma away. After all, this can be a helpful coping mechanism. However, in the long run, it is not a sustainable way to live.
Trapped energy means you no longer has access to that energy.
Tendency towards illness
In addition to feeling tired, you could feel out of balance in other ways. Your physiology won’t work as well so there could be a tendency to get sick.
Does trauma ever go away?
Yes, it is possible! The brain can change and shift patterns. This is called neuroplasticity. Old patterns can be rewired to form new patterns of thought, emotions, and behavior.
Some traumas can lift more easily than others. In general, acute traumas involving a single incident tend to shift with trauma release therapies more quickly than chronic complex traumas and those at a younger age. Being hurt by a caretaker, loved one, or someone you trust can also leave a bigger impact.
Regardless, humans have an amazing capacity for resilience. We’re a part of nature and nature never gives up. Nature finds a way to grow, change, and recover. People are a part of that balance.
You are a part of that balance and resilience. Recovery is possible.
What do we need to release it?
The energy trapped by trauma is potential energy. You can reclaim it! In doing so, you can feel full of energy, sleep well, think clearly, and feel calm.
Releasing trauma regularly helps you with your resilience to life’s ups and downs.
Letting go of old patterns can help you flow with life.
Also, stress is a part of most illness. By relieving stress in your life, you are naturally improving your overall health as well as your resistance to disease.
Consistent trauma release is part of maintaining our health and wellbeing.
Who would benefit most from trauma release?W
Anyone who would like help with stress, anxiety, or tension could benefit from trauma release. These include the following groups:
- Those dealing with work stress
- Physicians, therapists, and emergency workers
- Other caretakers
- Police, firefighters, and first-responders
- Military vets
- Rape survivors
- Sports or injury recovery
Consider trauma release if you would like help with…
… stress reduction
… feeling calm
… releasing anger
… sleeping better
… thinking more clearly
… releasing old patterns
… breaking habits
… living with more ease
… connecting with others
… processing major life trauma, such as
How to release trauma
When considering how to release trauma, taking into account the severity of the impact is important.
Connecting with the body in some way is also essential.
“In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.”― Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma
Mind-body therapies rely on being able to talk, write, or think about your stress. Feeling heard and acknowledging your own feelings — both emotional and physical feelings — in a nonjudgmental way can be paramount to healing.
If you have been through significant trauma, please work directly with a trauma therapist.
Mind-body therapies include the following:
-Cognitive behavioral therapy
-Dialectical behavioral therapy
-Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or tapping
Maybe you don’t feel like sharing your story right now. If the stress is too overwhelming to talk about, then consider starting with the body. After all, trauma is stuck in the body and needs to be viscerally released.
The body knows how to balance if the mind lets it. In doing so, the mind will also benefit. When you start with the body, I call this Body-Mind therapies.
These can be used as stand-alone tools for stress release or as adjuncts to other forms of trauma therapy. Again, if you have had significant trauma, please work 1:1 with a trauma therapist.
Examples of Body-Mind Therapies include the following:
-Somatic Experiencing ®
-Dance Movement Therapy
Creation is an expression of the spirit. By creating, you allow yourself and your spirit to expand. Fear contracts the body and imagination. You can then reverse that by using your imagination to help you expand and heal.
Examples of healing creation therapies include the following:
-Light and color therapy
Body work / Energy medicine
Since the effects of trauma involve tension and stuck physiology, getting body work or energy medicine can be helpful in getting unstuck.
From my perspective, no healing is complete without addressing the spirit. This is transformative medicine. Any of the above therapies can have a spiritual component. I’m not talking about religion but the depths of your being.