How to Release Trauma Trapped in Your Body
Every body carries trauma. No, that’s not a typo.
Because trauma is any unprocessed thought or emotion that gets stuck in your nervous system. And whether it’s a big, extremely stressful event or a small one, trauma lodges itself in your body.
If you want to heal, you have to learn to release the trauma that’s trapped in your body.
But before we talk about how to release trauma trapped in your body, let’s talk about how it gets stuck there in the first place.
How trauma gets stored in the body
Anytime you’re stressed your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) gets activated.
The SNS increases your heart rate and blood pressure, makes you sweat, shuttles blood out of your organs and into your muscles, and shuts down your executive functions so the volume can be turned up on the part of your brain that’s responsible for survival. (1)
All of this happens so you can either fight whatever’s threatening you or run away from it.
A third option is that you freeze, which happens in especially frightening situations when none of the other options will work. (2)
what happens after the stressful event is even more important.
Because once the immediate threat goes away, your body is supposed to shut off the SNS and let the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) take charge again, returning you back to your baseline rest-and-digest mode.
But if the body doesn’t have the opportunity to express stressful emotions then that stress gets stuck in your body.
And this makes it harder for your SNS to shut off, even when there is no immediate threat in sight.
Enter trauma, chronic stress, and anxiety.
Unfortunately, most modern therapeutic approaches don’t help patients release the trauma that’s stuck in the body.
You can’t just talk about your feelings and expect them to go away, —unless they get processed through the nervous system as well.
And if you take pills to help you regulate your emotions you’re just dealing with the surface symptoms, not the root cause of the issue.
The word express literally means “to press out,” which reflects the fact that this emotional expression has to happen on a physical level.
Emotions actually have to move through your body to be released.
This is why this third stress response, the freeze reaction, is the one that’s most likely to lead to trauma.
Because when you freeze, those emotions have nowhere to go.
So how are you supposed to move emotions out and release trauma that’s stuck in your body?
If you watch an animal after a stressful event, you’ll notice something that might look a bit strange.
Once the threat is gone, their whole body shakes for a few minutes.
They literally shake it off (I don’t think Taylor Swift was aware of how profound her song was when she wrote it, but here we are.)
And then when they’re done shaking it off, those animals never look back. They just get up and act like nothing happened, no therapy necessary.
Check out this video to see what I’m talking about:
In his book, In An Unspoken Voice, Dr. Peter A. Levine describes the incredible importance of this natural shaking response to discharge emotions:
“This capacity for self-regulation holds the key for our modern survival—survival beyond the brutal grip of anxiety, panic, night terrors, depression, physical symptoms and helplessness that are the earmarks of prolonged stress and trauma.”
Just like animals, humans have a natural shaking response to emotionally charged situations.
“These gyrations and undulations are ways that our nervous system ‘shakes off’ the last rousing experience and ‘grounds’ us in readiness for the next encounter with danger, lust, and life,” Levine goes on to explain.
Simply put, any stress that you don’t have the opportunity to release through physical movements like shaking will embed itself in your neurology.
And this trauma that’s stuck in your body is a huge part of what holds you back from meeting life the way you want to.
It doesn’t even have to be some big, stereotypical traumatic event.
Small traumas can get stuck in your body too.
You know they’re there because you feel out of control.
You can’t relax.
You feel like there’s always something that needs to be fixed inside of you but you can’t quite put your finger on how to fix it.
And you find yourself reacting to life in ways that feel extremely uncomfortable, laced with fear and shame.
Some less-obvious examples of “small t” traumatic events that can still have a huge impact on your wellbeing include:
- Being yelled at
- Being bullied
- Sibling rivalry
- Peer pressure
- Schooling that is incompatible with your personal learning style
- Religious incompatibility
- Physical injury & accidents
- Having emotions invalidated
- Racial discrimination & microaggressions
- Financial instability
- Over-exposure to unrealistic beauty standards
- Unprocessed trauma in care-givers
- Any transition phase, even wanted ones like graduations, getting married, or having a baby
So how do you release trauma that’s stuck in the body?
Shake it off baby!
If you happen to find yourself in a stressful situation and notice that your body wants to move, let it do its thing.
Follow those movements without interpretation or judgment (fair warning: they usually look really weird, but just let them flow through you until that stress has had the opportunity to discharge).
Depending on the emotional impact of the event, this discharging can take a few minutes or go on for a while longer.
But what about the emotions from that past that have already lodged themselves in your body as trauma? How do you discharge those?
There are a few ways.
You can just jump up and down in place, feel into the tension in your body and shake into it.
Pro tip: If you do this, let yourself grunt, moan, cry, laugh, or whatever vocal expressions come up. Vocalizing helps the energy move.
But if diving into the deep end alone isn’t your thing, you can also go the guided route.
Qigong and kundalini practices have taught shaking and other practices that induce natural tremors for thousands of years.
Click here to learn how to do Universe Stance, one of the simplest and most powerful qigong poses you can use to induce natural tremors and transform “negative” emotions.
More recently, Dr. David Berceli, PhD has designed a series of exercises called Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE®) which is a simple yet innovative series of exercises that assist the body in releasing deep muscular patterns of stress, tension, and trauma.
This video will show you how:
And if you’d like to learn more ways to rewire your neurology for less stress and anxiety, then click here to download your (free) Bliss Kit PDF.
I can’t wait to see where this takes you!