- Groups of mothers in Massachusetts and New Jersey have organized scream therapy groups to help relieve the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Experts say scream therapy can help reduce tension, frustration, and anger.
- However, experts note that scream therapy is not a long-term solution for mental health issues.
Many parents are tired, frustrated, and just plain angry at the COVID-19 pandemic after 2 years of being stuck isolated with restless children.
The restrictions, the masks, and the testing are enough to make you want to scream.
So, some parents are. And it feels good.
They swear it helps, and scientists might not disagree.
“The scream is a natural and intuitive way for your body to release emotion, i.e., anger/rage. It takes your sympathetic nervous system to the extreme and really there’s no other place to go ‘down’ from there but into a relaxation response,” Sarah Harmon, a Massachusetts licensed therapist and founder of The School of MOM, told Healthline.
Harmon said she’s the founder of the “primal mom scream,” which gathered mothers during the pandemic’s first year and led them in hair-raising screaming.
Harmon said the sessions allowed the mothers to vent pent-up pandemic rage and to bond with each other when bonding with strangers was discouraged.
“Another healing part of the scream is the community component,” Harmon said. “It’s so affirming and healing to be in a shared emotion — especially a taboo one like anger — with others who have been going through what you have, and to be given full permission to feel and express what you’re feeling.”
Primal scream therapy took off in the early 1970s, with celebrities such as musician John Lennon and actor James Earl Jones becoming big proponents.
The therapy was based on “The Primal Scream,” a book by Arthur Janov, a U.S. psychotherapist who argued that neurosis is caused by the repressed pain of childhood trauma. He said pain could be released through a basic experience and reaction to the emotions: screaming.
“The basic premise behind scream therapy is the release of endorphins, a chemical released by the body which reduces stress,” said Evona L. Smith, a family nurse practitioner and doctor of nursing in Louisiana who has written books meant to help children deal with the pandemic.
“Simply put, endorphins interact with receptors in the brain that produces a positive feeling in the body,” Smith told Healthline. “Although scream therapy can trigger the release of endorphins and, in turn, reduce stress, there are less strenuous ways to deal with stress during the pandemic.”
The group in New Jersey was organized by Jessica Kline, the publisher of Macaroni KID Clifton-Montclair.
Kline told CBS News she’s often felt overwhelmed and isolated. When the pandemic started, she had three children under the age of 6 at home.
“My house felt narrow; I felt like the walls were caving in on me,” she said. “And I just felt like there was no place to go.”
“I had a 6-month-old on my hip, I had a 4-year-old, and a 6-year-old who was in kindergarten, so nobody was in school,” Kline added. “And keeping them entertained throughout the day, while changing diapers and nursing, was insane.”
A Pew Research study from October 2020 reported that 27 percent of U.S. mothers with children younger than age 18 felt the best arrangement for them would be not to work for pay at all. That was up from 19 percent the year before.
The share of mothers who said it was best for them to work full time dropped from 51 percent to 44 percent during that span.
“I believe American/Western culture has significantly underestimated the effect of the pandemic on people,” Alexandra Cromer, a licensed counselor with Thriveworks in Richmond, Virginia, told Healthline.
“The culture has shifted to view the pandemic as normal and there’s a very consistent push in society for things to return back to normal,” she explained. “But things are not normal and people are being forced to operate, continue to work, live, etc., under that false paradigm. That creates some cognitive dissonance, which can directly elevate levels of stress.”
“If we are forced to return to in-person work, for example, and are told that it’s ‘safe and fine’ even when we don’t believe it is, that’s going to trigger the fight-or-flight response in the body,” Cromer added.
The restrictive circumstances can make people want to scream.
However, that might not be the best idea for long-term therapy, Cromer noted.
“Long-term triggering of the sympathetic nervous system can cause serious long-term health complications including but not limited to high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, high cholesterol, and insomnia,” she said. “There is not evidence that supports this as therapy, and thus we should be careful to view it as something that can be therapeutic but in and of itself is not considered healing or part of therapy.”
Alyssa Scolari, a licensed counselor in New Jersey, told Healthline there are certainly short-term benefits to scream therapy, but eventually, people will need to turn to more sustainable methods of dealing with their COVID-19 stress.
“Screaming your frustrations does help. Think of the old saying, ‘Better out than in,’” Scolari said. “This pandemic has brought on years of frustration and isolation, so taking some time to scream about it can be really satisfying, whether you’re screaming into your pillow or venting with a group of friends.
“That being said, screaming on a regular basis can certainly be rough on the throat and there are other ways to vent your frustrations,” she added. “Some really fun, anger-releasing activities can include going to an axe-throwing facility, visiting an ‘angry room,’ where you can pay to break dishes and glasses, or taking up an activity like boxing or jiujitsu”.
Scolari said the most important thing is to maintain human connection.
“Create regular virtual meetups with your friends and family to avoid becoming withdrawn and isolated,” she said. “Other ways to cope with COVID-19 demons include making time to get outside and absorb some vitamin D, taking intentional detoxes from your phone/technology, keeping your work-from-home space separate from the rest of your home, and trying to process your frustrations through journaling or talking to a therapist.”