Editor’s note: Wellness Word is an informational column which is not meant to replace a health care professional’s diagnosis, treatment or medication.
Shaking Away Stress
Let’s face it… life is stressful. No matter who we are and where we come from, we all experience it. In fact, stress is such a part of the fabric of daily life that we are often blind to the impacts it has on our health and wellbeing. Like it or not, our bodies and nervous systems take a beating everyday.
Whether it is holiday stress, ongoing financial concerns, workplace duress, relationship struggles, or the overwhelm of being a working parent trying to meet the needs of one’s family, the strain of modern life can be constant and insidious. The problem is that the human body and nervous system were designed to manage occasional stressors and bring them to swift resolution. Instead modern life often feels more like a deluge of chronic stress.
There are many ways that habituated and prolonged stress can disrupt the body’s balance. As research in the field of neurophysiology has shown, stress is known to be predominantly a physiological phenomenon. The human body responds to stress by triggering biochemical shifts as well as changes in the musculoskeletal system.
Have you ever noticed that when you are exposed to a loud and startling noise, your body flexes forward instinctively? Perhaps you have had the experience during the course of a busy day sitting in front of your computer and realizing that your shoulders are curled forward and your chest caved in. The body has a natural reflex to protect itself by moving into flexion whenever it feels the effects of stress or any perceived threat. This is the body’s way of defending its underbelly, the vulnerable area of the abdomen where vital organs are housed.
Besides musculoskeletal changes, stress creates changes in the autonomic nervous system as well as in the hormonal system through the release of adrenaline and cortisol. Over time, chronic stress disrupts the proper function of body systems and leads to increased dysregulation of the nervous system as well as sustained levels of cortisol in the blood. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol result in elevated blood glucose, elevated blood volume or hypertension, decreased immune function and disrupted digestion.
Perhaps most damaging is that chronic stress can actually produce a sustained baseline of arousal or agitation in the nervous system. When the nervous system’s baseline is normalized at this higher level of agitation, a person has a narrower window of tolerance for life stressors. In other words, ongoing stress makes one less resilient to life and more prone to overwhelm, thus perpetuating an ongoing cycle of imbalance and of suffering physically, mentally and emotionally.
Fortunately, there are many ways one can work with the body and mind to counteract the impact of stress. TRE® (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises) is one way of very directly and effectively addressing the physiological impact of stress by working directly with the body.
Developed by Dr. David Berceli, TRE uses a series of gentle exercises which can be modified for any body type or restriction, to activate a self-controlled, muscular tremor reflex which is the body’s natural way of re-establishing balance by discharging energy stored in the nervous system. This tremor or shaking reflex originates from the brain stem and moves deep in the core of the body, spreading from the legs upward along the spine, slowly unwinding muscular holding patterns from the sacrum to the cranium.
Just as the body has a biological reflex to protect itself, it also has this natural reflex to rebalance itself through the shaking mechanism. The body knows how to do this at a biological level. Neurologist Robert Scaer, author of The Body Bears the Burden and 8 Keys to Brain-Body Balance, reminds us that the tremor release (or freeze discharge as it is referred to), is a necessary component of nervous system re-regulation for all mammals after exposure to stress or trauma. In human beings, this instinct has simply been over-ridden by socialization and the thinking mind.
Since this shaking mechanism is part of the natural mammalian response to stress, everyone can benefit from it. Because the therapeutic tremors induced with TRE originate from the brain stem (the part of the brain that controls autonomic bodily functions), there is very little emotional or cognitive process that is stirred by the practice. So it is a safe and gentle way for the body to process held stress and trauma without re-triggering uncomfortable memories.
It is easily learned, has immediate impact and can be integrated into a simple daily routine to help restore a sense of inner peace and emotional resiliency and is designed to be a self-help tool that once learned, can be used throughout one’s life, continuously supporting and promoting personal health. It is also an effective complementary practice that integrates well with other more traditional mental health and physical treatment modalities.
For more information about Jessica Schaffer, Certified TRE® Practitioner, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org