There is a lot of pain around: In a huge study (Breivik et al 2006) across 15 European countries, 19% of people reported living with moderate to severe pain for more than 6 months. That’s 1 in 5 people in persistent pain states, the majority for many years. Holy moly.
There is also a lot of anxiety around: ‘Anxiety disorders are the most common type of psychiatric disorders in the US. The lifetime prevalence of anxiety disorders among American adults is 28.8%’ (Bhatt 2017). That’s more than 1 in 4 people who are seriously affected by anxiety.
A link between pain and trauma (and between pain and anxiety; anxiety is strongly associated with fear and fight-or-flight) is that both states are determined by protective reflexes. Pain and anxiety are essentially about the perception of not feeling safe.
Pain is your brain telling you something is unsafe. It is the unavoidable signal generated within consciousness indicating the brain is predicting something is badly wrong.
Trauma is being stuck in defence cascades, physiological drives such as fight-or-flight or freeze, that are generated when your threat detection systems decide something is dangerous.
The most fundamental question your brain is concerned with is ‘Am I Safe Right Now?’. If the answer to that question is ‘No!’, then pain and anxiety are all too common outputs to protect.
The problem of pain and trauma is that our brains and nervous systems are like the worst back seat driver ever – always predicting danger and always trying to overprotect.
That’s why I work with embodied approaches to ease trauma, and my preferred tool is Trauma and Tension Releasing Exercises (TRE).
TRE®, Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises, are a simple set of exercises that trigger a natural tremor reflex in the body. It is a safe, natural process to re-boot overprotective reflexes.
Think of shaking as a reboot to the nervous system. In stress and trauma our brain defaults to old, habitual, protective patterns. Involuntary shaking is a burst of good news from the shaking muscles direct to the central nervous system. The signals generated when tremoring actively create new neural pathways inside the brain.
There are three main things going on when we teach TRE:
1. Education that people are not ‘mad, bad or broken’. Helping people understand how primitive protective reflexes work is very powerful. Education is an effective tool for change.
2. Training in mind-body interaction. We teach how to relate to intense feelings in a grounded and self-regulated way. TRE is about releasing tension and about ‘waking the body up’. Shaking is used to support connection and find safety. There is a deep acknowledgement of dissociative states and a long, slow journey to embodied safety.
3. Shaking is a novel and interesting stimulus to a stuck organism. Sometimes it’s quite wonderful to let primitive reflexes run your body and to learn how to go into and out of shaking. In the right context, the feelings generated by shaking can be a powerful stimulus to come out of old, fixed habits. New stimuli, approached with safety and curiosity, can support learning and growth.
A great way to begin your exploration of TRE is by joining an intro day, where we teach a simple, accessible toolkit to help you deal with the challenges of these times.
In our TRE intro days, we explore:
– Shaking and tremoring to access and re-set reflexes and habits in the nervous system
– How to start – and stop – therapeutic tremors
– Skills to self-regulate and manage anxiety, stress and tension
– The theory of TRE – the “science bit” that explains how tension and trauma lock us into defence strategies which cause exhaustion, pain and inflammation
New TRE 1 year Training:
London: Start 21 Jul 2023