Recent research has served to emphasize the crucial relevance of the body when considering both how severe traumatic experiences can adversely affect us AND how we can treat such adverse effects (including posttraumatic stress disorder).
One very important finding in relation to this is that traumatic experiences can lead to chronic excess tension in the skeletal muscles. And, because the body and the mind are so intimately connected, this, in turn, can make us hypersensitive to stress to such a degree that we may find even very minor stressors create in us feelings of overwhelming anxiety.
Indeed, as the role of the body in how traumatic experiences affect us (especially if we are suffering from PTSD) becomes better understood there is a concomitant increase in interest in supplementing psychological therapies to treat responses to trauma with somatic (physical) therapies.
Neurogenic Tremors :
Tremors are a natural, automatic / instinctual response to anxiety, fear, panic attacks, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or any shock to the nervous system. This response has evolved because, when the nervous system becomes out of balance, it helps to return the body and emotions back into a state of equilibrium; it achieves this by reducing our level of arousal and shutting down the ‘fight or flight’response.
Furthermore, tremors are a way of dissipating the excess energy residing in the body that accumulated during the state of high arousal. In this way, tremors can help us escape from the unpleasant symptoms (both physical and mental) that may have arisen due to trauma.
In technical terms, tremors help to reduce over-activity in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis ( a complex neuroendocrine system whose functions include regulating our response to stress, our emotions and bodily, energy storage and release) and are called neurogenic tremors.
Applications To Therapy :
Tremors (or shaking or trembling) help to deactivate and calm the nervous system. Such deactivation signals to the brain that danger and threat has passed ; this, in turn, allows us to relax again : our muscles are able to release the excess of energy they have stored up whilst in fight / flight mode which, in turn, permits chronic tension patterns that have developed in the body to be eradicated.
People who have suffered trauma and have developed PTSD have often been ‘locked into’ the fight/flight response for a protracted period of time and have suppressed their feelings of anxiety (often with the ‘help’ of alcohol or drugs) because they believe, on a conscious or unconscious level, that showing and expressing one’s feelings ‘a sign of weakness.’
And, because of this erroneous belief, such individuals tend to be averse to physical displays of distress (such as trembling and crying). The price to be paid for such suppression is that the excess energy stored in the body becomes trapped, ensuring that the person habitually remains in an uncomfortable state of bodily tension and associated mental distress.
Based on the ideas presented above, Dr Peter Levine, a leading expert on the effects of trauma, has developed a therapy that he has called ‘somatic experiencing‘ which helps the client to release the pernicious, pent-up energy that was generated by their traumatic experience and, thus, alleviate their physical and mental suffering incurred.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).