April is Stress Awareness Month, but shouldn’t every month, in fact, every day be about stress awareness and how to tackle it?
Many of us are experiencing high levels of stress and I strongly believe that it is the root of (almost) all evil. Stress can seriously impact both our psychological as well as our physiological health.
Take one of my recent clients, let’s call her Bridget. She’s a successful project manager with a busy job. She is in a loving relationship and just got engaged. She also just recently lost a friend to cancer who wasn’t even 50 years old.
Can you see a mix of positive and negative stressors? You have most certainly heard that even happy events like organising a wedding can be stressful.
Therefore it is important to understand what is causing us stress and how we can address it. There are many ways to relax, some are certainly more effective than others, and it is important to find the one that works for you.
Bridget is a keen cyclist and a regular meditator – but due to time constrains and her lack of energy when she eventually finished work and crossed off at least a few items on her long to-do list – she hadn’t gotten her bike out or taken the time to meditate as regularly as she had wanted.
Although Bridget was fortunate that she had established an outlet for her stress, many people don’t have this in the first place.
If sport, meditation or mindfulness are not for you, let me introduce you to my favourite stress management tool. It’s niche, it’s unique, and it’s such an innate, tremendous process.
Let us start by looking into how our bodies react to stress.
In stressful situations, we mobilise energy to defend and protect ourselves, which is helpful as we get the energy to fight or flight. But nowadays we are not running away from a wild beast and as a result that energy doesn’t get used up and stays within our system. These stress hormones are then increasing the baseline of our stress levels.
As a result we can stay on high alert, i.e. high on adrenaline and cortisol, always expecting danger, constantly ready to fight or flight – we might have sleep issues, psychosomatic pain or avoid certain situations that caused this response.
This is exhausting and only when we are able to complete the cycle – use up the excess energy, the body can find its equilibrium again and the nervous system is being reset. Otherwise it can manifest as physical or psychological symptoms.
Bridget felt a huge amount of tension in her jaw and endured many restless nights. After a visit to her dentist, she was told there is a crack in one of her teeth and she woke up regularly very aware of the pressure she had put on her teeth.
What is the solution and how can we address this tension? We don’t fight or flight to burn off the excess energy, but we want to complete the cycle – releasing stress hormones and then burning them off again. What are our options?
My favourite modality, as it is based on our bodies’ innate reaction to deal with stress by shaking it off – is TRE (tension and trauma releasing exercises).
David Berceli, PhD, who developed this amazing somatic tool, compiled a set of exercises to help the body to do just that – shaking off tension and stress.
Shaking it off? Do you find this weird? That’s most certainly your brain telling you. If you ask your body – the response is probably: ‘wow, what a relief, I have been waiting for this for ages.’
Berceli worked successfully in war zones, with people who were highly traumatised and with many soldiers who presented with PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). These are the roots of TRE as Berceli wanted to be able to help many people after a conflict.
TRE is not just for big T traumas, though. Even the daily stressors of living in the 21st century, let alone living through a global pandemic and witnessing a war in Europe for the first time in almost 80 years can add to our stress and tension.
I really want everybody to know how powerful somatic modalities can be. By prioritising cognitive therapies over bodywork, I feel we are really missing a huge opportunity as mind and body are intrinsically linked.
Even the psychotherapist Bessel van der Kolk, author of the bestselling book The Body Keeps the Score, admitted in a recent lecture that we need to work with the body. And he suggested that psychotherapists can only do so much for their clients and that maybe bodyworkers, yoga teachers, martial arts instructors etc. may have at least as much to offer.
As a somatic practitioner with a foundation training in counselling it makes a lot of sense to me as I’ve seen the difference between cognitive and somatic modalities in my own life. And I hear amazing client feedback, too. Once your body is familiar with the tremoring process, it only takes about ten minutes of your time.
By practising TRE in a safe and controlled manner, the stored stress hormones can be accessed and discharged, the nervous system is being reset and this in turn can help with many psychological as well as physiological ailments – basically any issues where we are holding too much tension in our bodies, such as headaches/migraines, neck/shoulder/back pain, teeth-grinding, gastrointestinal complaints, high blood pressure, irritability, anxiety etc.
My client Bridget saw a big difference after just one session. She fed back that the pressure on her jaw was considerably less and she felt more relaxed – she also added: ‘My sleep is so much better, too and I’m already a convert.’
As with many slightly unusual suggestions, the proof is in the pudding. Check out the official TRE video on my website and you can try practising yourself – but promise me that you won’t dismiss it if you don’t get the most out of your practice, but get in touch to learn it properly. TRE is indeed simple, but powerful and with everything that you are learning, you want to get the foundation right, feel safe and be able to self-regulate.
Our bodies are amazing, let them do the work and give the mind a wee break.
Ready to give it a try? You might then join me in wondering: ‘Why on earth is not everybody shaking it off?’
Sylvia Tillmann is a TRE provider and empowers her clients to take their health and well-being into their own hands and bodies.