TikTok is always a great place to discover new trends, innovative techniques and ground-breaking ideas. Recently, the concept of trauma release exercises (TRE), also known as somatic experiencing or therapeutic shaking, has been trending on the platform with advocates claiming it promotes mental health by helping to treat unresolved trauma stored in the body and reset the nervous system.
As with all TikTok trends, it's important to take it with a pinch of salt – even more so when it relates to health and mental wellbeing. However, the technique certainly seems promising when it comes to addressing chronic trauma and alleviating anxiety. Plus, the theory behind it sounds reasonable.
“I spent 10 years seeing psychologists, psychiatrists, I was first put on medication when I was 12, and it never worked,” says TikTok user Luna Alice. “Therapy uses a top-down approach, which means using your mind to try and heal your trauma, but trauma is stored in the body. You can't think your way out of trauma… I couldn't.”
She continues to explain that she has adopted a “bottom-up approach," which is where you work with the body to calm down the nervous system before using your mind in reprogramming techniques like cognitive behavioural therapy.
“Trauma release exercises are a super safe way of gently and over time release trauma from the body,” she adds. “The best part is, you don't even have to know what your trauma is. You don't have to think about it or re-traumatise yourself. Basically, all you do is let your body shake.”
Sounds good – too good, perhaps. To clear up any doubts, we've called upon the experts to answer everything you need to know, including whether or not it's safe to start therapeutic shaking at home.
What are trauma release exercises or trauma shaking?
“Tremors or trembling are neurophysiological reactions that occur during or after stressful events in many animals,” explains Anne-Sophie Fluri, neuroscientist at mindfulness app MindLabs. “Humans have learned to brace ourselves in times of adversity, that trembling is a sign of weakness and thus we hold in trauma and emotion.
“The idea behind tension and trauma releasing exercises is to recognise that these tremor systems are in place for a reason, so to encourage the therapeutic value of this system in the body, we can self-induce tremor when we’re at rest, with the goal to discharge of physical tension and mitigate the experience of stress.”
Can it really help to reset the nervous system, burn excess adrenaline and release built up tension?
According to Anne-Sophie, because neurogenic tremors are neuro- and physiological, the results are two-fold: physical and neurological. “It can release physical stress or tension held in the body, sometimes even chronic pain. As a result there could be an increase in mobility, flexibility, and a greater sense of physical health and wellbeing,” she says.
She goes on to explain that there could be a psycho-emotional reduction in levels of stress, anxiety, or symptoms of post-traumatic stress. “Over time you can experience down regulation of the nervous system, bringing energy levels down, lowering blood pressure, heart, and respiratory rate, acting as a ‘reset’ of bodily functions.”
Can shaking be a useful part of stress management?
TRE was initially developed as an accessible, self-directed and low-cost method for use in high conflict zones. “In its first reported study amongst staff members at an orphanage in South Africa, participants experienced more frequent positive emotions toward themselves and greater confidence in their ability to deal with adversity after incorporating ‘self-induced therapeutic tremors’ 2-3x per week for 10 weeks,” notes Anne-Sophie.
However, she warns that TRE should never be used as a replacement to therapy, nutrition and exercise and you should still seek to address the root cause of your stress for long term recovery and wellbeing.
How can I start trauma release exercise at home?
While letting your body shake certainly sounds easy enough, TRE has the capacity to invoke memories of past trauma. “It’s important to understand an individual’s capacity to self-regulate, should the intensity of the surfacing emotions and also the unusual experience of uncontrollable shaking cause overwhelm,” warns Anne-Sophie. “If you have a history of deep trauma, both physical (surgeries, injuries) and mental, I would advise finding a provider to guide the session, as they’ll be able to make the necessary adjustments and provide support and reassurance.”
So, if you do decide to try it at home, make sure you’re fully informed, have watched videos of such sessions, and know that you can stop the tremors anytime by straightening your legs or rolling onto your side.
This article was originally published on Glamour UK.