Take a lesson from Taylor and shake it off. It just may help you de-stress.
We all experience stress in our lives. Stress can come from everyday events, like missing a bus or giving a speech. Other times, stress comes from trauma.
While some may benefit from counseling or therapy, it can also be beneficial to work with the body and nervous system directly.
This is where shaking therapy comes in.
Stress is a natural reaction to something our body deems a threat. However, chronic or intense stress can have a slew of negative effects on the body.
This is why stress management is crucial to overall well-being. Shaking therapy is one such management technique.
It’s also known as therapeutic or neurogenic tremoring, a phrase coined by David Berceli, PhD.
The approach involves shaking the body to release tension and trauma, helping to regulate the nervous system.
Dr. Peter Levine developed somatic experiencing as a body-based therapy to process and release trauma. In his book “Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma,” Levine notes that animals can be observed shaking to release tension and stress. You might’ve seen a dog do this.
The shaking or vibrating helps to release muscular tension, burn excess adrenaline, and calm the nervous system to its neutral state, thereby managing stress levels in the body.
The autonomic nervous system
- blood pressure
- heart rate
- respiratory rate
- body temperature
- sexual arousal
It does this with two opposing functions, known as upregulation and downregulation.
- Upregulation increases the energy available in the body.
- Downregulation decreases it.
When the body experiences stress, the autonomic nervous system elevates and affects bodily functions.
For example, when your body perceives something as stressful or threatening, your autonomic nervous system releases adrenaline and cortisol as part of the fight-flight-freeze response.
This speeds up the heart rate and gives the body a burst of energy and strength to respond to the perceived threat.
The body can also overreact to stressors, such as work or family pressure, which can take a toll on your health.
Deregulation is then needed to bring energy levels back down, lowering heart rate, respiratory rate, and blood pressure. This brings the nervous system back to neutral and resets bodily functions.
Shaking the body can help ease an overstimulated nervous system and calm the body back down.
Shaking therapy can help manage emotional states, both short- and long-term.
Regulating stress can also prevent it from building up and developing into symptoms of anxiety, trauma, or depression.
“Stress is a baseline starting point for a lot of mental and emotional dysregulation,” says health coach and trauma expert, Adair Finucane, LMSW. “[Shaking] is a release for the body, a release for the nervous system. You are literally shaking off the dust of stress, trauma, and anything your body would prefer to not hold on to.”
Regulating stress can help:
Shaking therapy can be performed seated or standing. Focus on particular parts of the body, simply shaking it out.
“Sometimes I just get goofy with it and make crazy movements,” Finucane says. “You can also just pause and … notice your breathing. Maybe even sigh it out, take a deep breath, and then take one of your arms and start wobbling it around a bit. Hang out here for three more breaths.”
Finucane emphasizes that you’re not really looking for anything in particular. Just be aware and curious.
- What does it feel like to be in my body?
- How did my body and emotions feel before I did this?
- How did my body and emotions feel after I did this?
Once complete, you’re ready to switch sides.
Repeat on each leg, the hips, and then the body as a whole. Shake it around and move any parts you feel like, including your head, fingers, and bottom.
You can follow along with Finucane’s video below or opt for a seated version.
“I would recommend starting very small,” Finucane says. “I recommend that somebody starts their day by shaking for 30 seconds if they’ve never shaken before.”
Finucane says even minimal shaking, like 10–30 seconds, can change the nervous system and affects hormone production.
When you feel comfortable, you can build up the practice to 30 seconds to 2 minutes every morning and night.
You can also shake anytime you’re feeling acute stress, or when you simply feel like it.
Finucane says she shakes throughout the day, including small releases, like when returning from the bathroom.
Alternatively, find a provider of tension and trauma releasing exercises (TRE) and follow their exercise instructions and guidance.
Certified TRE practitioners have training in tension and trauma releasing exercises and shaking therapy. You can find a provider close to you by searching this TRE provider list.
As shaking therapy can release intense emotions, Berceli recommends bringing someone along to support you. This is especially true if you experienced severe trauma.
“It’s still safe to do, but oftentimes people need somebody to accompany them. They might cry or get anxious,” he says. “[They may consider bringing] a clinician who helps them regulate that emotional state or even a close friend or a partner who they feel safe and comfortable with.”
Lack of evidence
While shaking therapy is effective for many people, scientific evidence around the approach is still limited.
As with any physical movement, it’s important to consider your body’s abilities and limitations.
“People have to be careful if they have physical limitations, like an [injured] knee or hip,” Berceli notes. “It doesn’t mean they can’t do the exercises or even tremor, it just means they have to be careful … and respect the limitations of their body.”
You may choose to shake while seated to avoid injury or reduce the load on your body.
Shaking can help regulate the nervous system and calm the body when it’s overstimulated.
While evidence is still lacking, trauma and tension releasing exercises, like shaking, may be beneficial in managing and relieving stress.
Consider shaking at home or with a certified provider if you want to ease stress.
Marnie Vinall is a freelance writer living in Melbourne, Australia. She’s written extensively for a range of publications, covering everything from politics and mental health to nostalgic sandwiches and the state of her own vagina. You can reach Marnie via Twitter, Instagram, or her website.