By: Sabrina Hossain
Have you ever gotten headaches, fatigue, or muscle tension and had no idea why? You’re not alone. Turns out, all of these unexplained physical reactions we can’t put our finger on could be the result of unhealed trauma.
When we think of trauma, we tend to think about mental health. It’s valid, and it’s because trauma is often discussed in the context of psychological stress. Research shows that trauma can cause a host of mental health problems, including memory loss and other cognitive issues. But research also shows that our bodies can be affected in a similar way…
I think it’s safe to say that the past year was a traumatic experience for everybody. The entire world going on lockdown has not been an easy transition. During the initial phases of the pandemic, many people reported struggling with insomnia, chronic fatigue and rapid weight gain: all symptoms that are common for those experiencing trauma.
Interestingly, when our brains sense danger, they can not differentiate between the emotional or physical. Our brains will process all danger as physical danger, which is why we experience physical symptoms during and after a traumatic event. Oftentimes, our body reacts before our mind does and the four F’s (fight, flight, freeze, and fawn) come into play before we even realize it. This leads to physical symptoms that can affect our bodies long after the traumatic event.
It isn’t always easy to determine whether or not those sore muscles are a result of trauma or something else. But, the good news is that physical symptoms of trauma can be healed through moving our bodies in ways that are easy and enjoyable.
Here are 7 activities that have helped me with physical symptoms of trauma:
I loved dancing as a kid. It’s that form of exercise that doesn’t feel like a chore. It’s also very accessible, even now as an adult. Do it alone in your bedroom or with a group of friends. Who cares what others might think. Just play some music and start moving your body. It’s that easy.
I had the opportunity to play beach volleyball a few weeks ago and it was a 10/10 experience. It can be hard to find a chance to play sports as an adult, but any opportunity I can find, I’ll take. It doesn’t need to be competitive or intense. Play a game of pickup or try a new sport. It’s about getting your body “unstuck” from that sitting position you’ve been in all day.
My therapist is constantly recommending yoga. Turns out, there are specific movements for releasing physical trauma. Trauma-informed yoga is primarily focused on making sure participants feel connected to their body rather than having the correct form. Yoga focused on healing trauma can result in a calmer nervous system and allow the body to release itself from staying in hypervigilance.Check out YouTube: there’s a plethora of videos available specifically curated for survivors of trauma. Your trauma doesn’t need to be “substantial” - this form of yoga is for anyone.
4. Deep breathing
One of the most common recs for healing trauma is engaging in deep breathing. This method has probably been the most difficult for me. However, it’s been proven to do wonders for calming the nervous system. A breathing exercise I like to do is picture a color that represents positivity and one that represents negativity. Breathe in the positive color and breathe out the negative. It may feel strange to do at the beginning, but give it a shot and see how you feel afterwards.
I used to scoff whenever meditation was recommended to me, but it really does work! Calm and Headspace are great apps to try if you’re a beginner. I can tell you from personal experience, meditation has helped me minimize racing thoughts and anxiety, especially before bed. I’ve never slept better.
6. Connecting with nature through hiking
This option may sound a little pretentious, but hear me out. After spending a year in isolation, wouldn’t you rather go outside and admire some plant life instead of scrolling through social media for hours on end?
7. Get a Massage
One of the bougier options on this list, but also very effective. If you can’t afford a session with a massage therapist, a chiropractor might be an alternative that your insurance covers. Otherwise, check out a massage gun. It costs a pretty penny, but it’s worth it.
These are only a few out of many activities you can do to release trauma for the body but this is what’s worked for me so far. Try one out, or try a few. Who knows, they may feel better than you expect.