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How To Release Trauma from the Body 🧠
5 Tools You Can Use to Activate Your Parasympathetic Nervous System (5min Read)
Launched a trauma-release Starter Kit for MBB Lab Blog subscribers.
Trauma affects the brain; Polyvagal Theory and Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up approaches highlight body responses, targeting the "green" safe zone.
Healing involves external and internal safety, engaging the parasympathetic system, and using regulation tools.
Essential tools: "The Heroes Body", IFS therapy, and understanding of HRV & Vagus Nerve.
Neuroscience tools can help overcome trauma; readers are urged to start their healing journey.
This week I launched my first-ever Starter Kit on how to release trauma from the body!
Check it out below if you’d like.
That being said, I wanted to give you, my faithful MBB Lab Blog subscribers a sneak peek of the guide!
So, today, we’ll cover some of the basic steps you need to follow to prepare your body to release trauma and talk about a couple of tools that can help you actually do it too!
Let’s dive in!
The Intricate Web of Trauma
Before we go too deep, how does trauma get stuck in the body in the first place?
As usual, let’s look inside the brain to figure this out!
During trauma, certain chemicals, like cortisol, adrenaline, epinephrine, etc., flood our brain & body, putting us in survival mode.
Over time and repeated trauma, this reaction becomes our brain's default.
Such is the case for many who've experienced abusive relationships. The trauma binds them, producing a recurring pattern of stress and calm.
In neuroscientific terms, the Polyvagal Theory describes our bodily responses.
Look at the chart below – at the bottom, you’re safe (green), but as you move up, your state changes.
Red represents the shutdown state, and yellow represents the fight or flight state.
Our aim as humans? To constantly be in the green, to feel safe.
This is where Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up comes into play.
In simple terms, it's the distinction between addressing trauma from a cognitive versus a bodily perspective.
Our goal is to connect the mind, brain, and body into a harmonious rhythm.
For example, one of my clients, Maria came out of an abusive relationship where every raised voice threw her into a panic.
Even in a safe environment, a mere loud noise would send her heart racing.
This is her brain stuck in the "yellow zone" – a result of past trauma and the underlying brain chemistry.
So, how do we get out of this yellow/red zone and start to release trauma from the body so we can move back down to green?
The First Steps to Healing
Step 1: External Safety
Can you imagine being told to swim while you're drowning? Seems ridiculous right?
It’s the same with healing after trauma. If you’re drowning in the abuse & trauma, there’s no way to swim to safety.
To truly heal, you first need to be out of the traumatic situation.
Only then can you program your Reticular Activating System (RAS) to identify safety triggers.
I’ve found that the mantra, “I Am Safe,” serves as a cognitive reminder for clients of mine who are in this part of their healing journey!
Step 2: Internal Safety
Once physically safe, we turn inwards.
Here, we look for that glimmer, that small safe space in our body, it can be any part of your body that feels safe to you.
For some, it might be the soft lobes of their ears, or their elbows even.
This 'felt sense' of safety is like a healing balm, and allows your nervous system to begin realizing that it’s gonna be alright.
Sometimes it’s even helpful to create a safe place in your mind.
This could be a home, cottage, or room that you then furnish with whatever feels right to you.
The more senses you can incorporate the better! Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings that are safe for you!
By immersing ourselves in this safe place, we trigger our parasympathetic nervous system to counterbalance fear and anxiety.
Step 3: Engage the Parasympathetic
This is your body's rest and digest state.
It's about reaching a calm where your body recognizes it's safe, so it can start to heal you while you sleep.
But be warned, the path isn't without pitfalls.
Often, beneath our freeze response is a hidden surge of sympathetic activity, as we saw earlier.
Learning not to fear the emotion of fear.
This is easier said than done, but that’s why regulation tools are the next step!
Step 4: Regulation Tools
Handling triggers requires you to tune into your body.
I cover dozens in the guide, so I’ll only cover a couple here!
One of my favorites when that numbing sensation of "freeze" is popping up is to stomp your feet, shake it off, and let the energy flow.
Movement is a signal to the brain that we're in control, and everything is alright!
Another interesting tool for regulation is washing your hands, crazy right?
The sensation of water, its coolness, can jolt us back into the moment.
I’ve also written about my "Name It to Tame It" tool in past blogs, and this is another great cognitive trick for regulation – by labeling our emotions, we diminish their hold on us.
Once you’ve prepared your body to release trauma, it’s time to start actually releasing it!
The Arsenal for Healing
In the guide I cover just under 30 tools, today I’d like to cover my top 3!
Each is grounded in neuroscience, as I’m sure you already knew.
1. The Heroes Body
Mind: Engage in activities like meditation, gratitude, prayer, mindfulness, yoga, journaling, etc. This will put you into a parasympathetic state over time
Nutrition: Your brain's health is deeply intertwined with your gut. Adopting a diet rich in omega-3s, magnesium, D3 & K2, antioxidants, and essential vitamins can facilitate healing.
Sleep: Get 7-9 hrs of sleep every night! Research also suggests that sleeping on your right side might benefit REM sleep, crucial for processing trauma.
Exercise: Moving, even if it’s just a walk, releases endorphins, our body’s natural painkillers, helping us release stored trauma from our muscle fibers.
Social Connection: The oxytocin released from social interactions can act as a buffer against stress. Even just making eye contact with another human can turn our parasympathetic nervous system!
Play: It's not just for children. Playing can stimulate the brain's reward system, allowing for relaxation.
2. Internal Family Systems
Internal Family Systems (IFS), developed by Dr. Richard Schwartz in the 1980s, posits that individuals have multiple 'Parts' with unique emotions and traits.
At the heart of IFS is the "Self," which harmonizes these parts.
Adverse experiences can produce "Exiles" carrying traumas and "Protectors" shielding the Self. Protectors include "Managers" and "Firefighters," with the latter responding to intense emotions through behaviors like overeating.
IFS therapy focuses on understanding these Parts' origins and roles.
IFS is the exact protocol I use to help my clients find these Parts in & around their body and help them heal so they can come out of their bodies!
3. HRV & the Vagus Nerve
Heart Rate Variability is an indicator of our emotional flexibility and vagal tone.
This is important because our vagus nerve is the master regulator of our parasympathetic nervous system!
Hopefully, by now you’re starting to understand that turning this on, is how you start to release trauma from the body.
As we talked about in the HRV blog last week, techniques like Heart Coherence Breathing can boost your HRV, and activate your vagus nerve!
And measuring your HRV is a great way to objectively track your mental and emotional health, which is why I get each of my clients a Whoop.
I cover nearly 30 more tools in the guide, but these are without a doubt my favorite 3, I hope you enjoyed them!
You’ve Got This
I hope you can see now that trauma, while deeply embedded, isn't unshakable.
With knowledge and tools grounded in neuroscience, you CAN reclaim your life.
Every journey begins with a single step, this blog could be yours!
I’ll see you, ladies & gents, next week, and as always, until then… Live Heroically 🧠
Complex PTSD and Trauma:
van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking.
Herman, J. L. (1992). Trauma and recovery. Basic Books.
Neurochemical Responses to Trauma:
Sapolsky, R. M. (2004). Why zebras don't get ulcers: The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases, and coping. Holt paperbacks.
Porges, S. W. (2011). The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation. W. W. Norton & Company.
Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up Processing:
Ecker, B., Ticic, R., & Hulley, L. (2012). Unlocking the emotional brain: Eliminating symptoms at their roots using memory reconsolidation. Routledge.
Reticular Activating System and Safety:
Buzsáki, G. (2006). Rhythms of the Brain. Oxford University Press.
Engage the Parasympathetic:
McGilchrist, I. (2009). The master and his emissary: The divided brain and the making of the western world. Yale University Press.
Siegel, D. J. (2010). Mindsight: The new science of personal transformation. Bantam.
Neuroscience-Based Healing Tools:
Thoma, M. V., La Marca, R., Brönnimann, R., Finkel, L., Ehlert, U., & Nater, U. M. (2013). The effect of music on the human stress response. PloS one, 8(8), e70156.
Davidson, R. J., & McEwen, B. S. (2012). Social influences on neuroplasticity: stress and interventions to promote well-being. Nature neuroscience, 15(5), 689-695.
Hanson, R. (2009). Buddha's brain: The practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom. New Harbinger Publications.
Neurofeedback & Biofeedback:
Hammond, D. C. (2011). What is neurofeedback: An update. Journal of Neurotherapy, 15(4), 305-336.