• Kelly Skovron, LCSW

How Movement Can Help Trauma

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

I know you've heard the famous phrase 'trauma is stored in the body.' But what does this mean? It's thought that people who have been through a traumatic event hold memories of these events in their brains and bodies. I've heard people who struggle with trauma say that even though they are consciously processing their memories and feelings, that subconsciously they still feel anxiety, fear, hypervigilance, uncertainty. While our nervous system has a beautiful way of protecting us, this can also leave us feeling stuck in this state for a while. Think of it like this - if a bear was chasing you and you escaped, it would take a while for your body to return to a state of calm and ease. Trauma works in a similar way.


Trauma can also cause your body to be disrupted from its natural state, freezing you in a state of fear. Those who struggle with PTSD especially can have dysregulation that leads to problems in body- and self-awareness. Only using one approach to help dissolve the impact of trauma is like putting a bandaid on a big wound. While this may help stop the bleeding, it doesn't really get to the root of the issue.


To help regulate emotions and arousal, a bottom-up approach might be needed. This approach starts with less cognitive elements of the self like body and physical sensations. Body and movement-oriented therapies are categorized as physical activity that helps increase our body awareness. Bottom-up approaches in addition to top-down approaches (like talk therapy) can be the most effective way of healing from trauma - body and mind.



Movements That Can Help Trauma:

  • Walking

  • Running

  • Basketball

  • Dancing

  • Yoga

  • Swimming

  • Martial Arts

  • Hiking

  • "Knocking on Heaven's Door"

  • Boxing

  • Rock Climbing

  • Tai Chi

  • Weight Training

  • Shaking

Try finding rhythmic exercise that engages both your arms and legs. It also helps to find movement that adds a mindfulness element - one that really helps you focus on bodily sensations and how it feels when you move. Moving for at least 30 minutes almost every day is found to be most beneficial.


Movement Therapies That Can Help Trauma:

  • Somatic Experiencing Therapy is a modality that focuses on the bodily sensations of a traumatic event rather than the thoughts and memories. By concentrating on what is and has happened inside your body, you can release trauma-related energy through forms of physical movements.

  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) involves using bilateral stimulation (focusing on two things at once) with eye movements, audio tones, or tapping. These are coupled with talking about your beliefs about the trauma to help you feel unstuck and less distressed when recalling the memory in the future.



How has movement helped your body 'unstick' from past trauma? If you haven't tried it yet, will you?


 


Sources:

  • van de Kamp M., Scheffers M., Hatzmann J., Emck C., Cuijpers P., Beek P. (2019). Body- and Movement-Oriented Interventions for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Trauma Stress. 32(6):967-976. doi:10.1002/jts.22465

  • Robinson, L., Smith, M., Segal, J. (2020). Emotional and Psychological Trauma. HelpGuide.Org. Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/coping-with-emotional-and-psychological-trauma.htm#