Can shaking your body help heal stress and trauma? Some experts say yes
Take a lesson from Taylor and shake it off. It may help you de-stress.
We all experience stress in our lives. Stress can come from everyday events, like missing a bus or giving a speech. Other times, stress comes from trauma.
While some may benefit from counseling or therapy, it can also be beneficial to work directly with the body and nervous system.
This is where shaking therapy comes into play.
Stress is a natural reaction to something that our body considers a threat. However, chronic or intense stress can have a number of negative effects on the body.
This is why stress management is crucial to overall well-being. Agitation therapy is one such management technique.
It is also known as therapeutic or neurogenic tremor, a phrase coined by david berceli, Doctor.
The approach involves shaking the body to release tension and trauma, which helps regulate the nervous system.
Dr. Peter Levine developed somatic experience as a body-based therapy for processing and releasing trauma. In his book “Waking the Tiger: Healing the Trauma”, Levine points out that animals can be observed shaking to release tension and stress. You may have seen a dog do this.
Shaking or vibrating helps release muscle tension, burn off excess adrenaline, and calm the nervous system to its neutral state, thus controlling stress levels in the body.
The autonomic nervous system
- blood pressure
- heart rate
- respiratory rate
- body temperature
- sexual arousal
It does this with two opposing functions, known as upregulation and downregulation.
- Upregulation increases the energy available in the body.
- Down regulation decreases it.
When the body experiences stress, the autonomic nervous system is elevated and affects bodily functions.
For example, when your body perceives something as stressful or threatening, your autonomic nervous system releases adrenaline and cortisol as part of the fight, flight, and freeze response.
This speeds up the heart rate and gives the body a burst of energy and strength to respond to the perceived threat.
The body can also overreact to stressors, such as work or family pressure, which can affect your health.
Dysregulation is then needed to bring energy levels back down, reducing heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. This makes the nervous system neutral again and restores bodily functions.
Shaking the body can help relieve an overstimulated nervous system and calm the body.
Shaking therapy can help control emotional states, both short-term and long-term.
Regulating stress can also prevent it from building up into symptoms of anxiety, trauma, or depression.
“Stress is a basic starting point for a lot of mental and emotional dysregulation,” says health coach and trauma expert, adair finucane, LMSW. “[Shaking] it is a release for the body, a release for the nervous system. You are literally dusting yourself off from stress, trauma and anything your body would rather not hold on to.”
Regulating stress can help:
Agitation therapy can be performed sitting or standing. Focus on particular parts of the body, just shake it.
“Sometimes I go crazy and do crazy moves,” says Finucane. “You can also pause and…watch your breath. Maybe even sigh, take a deep breath, and then take one of his arms and start to wobble a bit. Hang out here for three more breaths.”
Finucane emphasizes that you are not really looking for anything in particular. Just be aware and curious.
- How does it feel to be in my body?
- How did my body and emotions feel before I did this?
- How did my body and emotions feel after doing this?
Once complete, you are ready to switch sides.
Repeat on each leg, hips and then throughout the body. Shake it and move the parts you want, including the head, fingers and buttocks.
You can follow the Finucane video below or opt for a seated version.
“I would recommend starting very low,” says Finucane. “I recommend that someone start the day by shaking for 30 seconds if they’ve never done it before.”
Finucane says that even minimal shaking, such as 10 to 30 seconds, can change the nervous system and affect hormone production.
When you feel comfortable, you can increase the practice from 30 seconds to 2 minutes each morning and night.
You can also shake whenever you feel acute stress, or whenever you just feel like it.
Finucane says she shakes throughout the day, including small shocks, like when she comes back from the bathroom.
Alternatively, find a provider stress and trauma release exercises (TRE) and follow your exercise instructions and guidance.
Certified TRE practitioners have training in stress and trauma release exercises and agitation therapy. You can find a provider near you by searching this List of TRE Providers.
Because shaking therapy can release intense emotions, Berceli recommends bringing someone to support you. This is especially true if you experienced severe trauma.
“It’s still safe to do it, but often people need someone to go with them. They may cry or become anxious,” he says. “[They may consider bringing] a doctor who helps them regulate that emotional state or even a close friend or a partner with whom they feel safe and comfortable”.
Lack of evidence
While shaking therapy is effective for many people, scientific evidence on the approach is still limited.
As with any physical movement, it’s important to consider your body’s capabilities and limitations.
“People have to be careful if they have physical limitations, like a [injured] knee or hip”, says Berceli. “It doesn’t mean they can’t do the exercises or even shake, it just means they have to be careful… and respect the limitations of their body.”
You may choose to shake while sitting to prevent injury or reduce the load on your body.
Shaking can help regulate the nervous system and calm the body when it is overstimulated.
While evidence is still lacking, trauma and stress relieving exercises, such as shaking, may be beneficial in managing and relieving stress.
Consider shivering at home or with a certified provider if you want to relieve stress.
Marnie Vinall is a freelance writer based in Melbourne, Australia. She has written extensively for a variety of publications, covering everything from politics and mental health to nostalgic sandwiches and the state of her own vagina. You can contact Marnie through Twitter, Instagram, or she website.
Last medical check-up on March 5, 2021