Anxiety & Stress Release Techniques: Shaking, Tapping and Fascia Release
8 May 2020
Our bodies hold emotions. It may sound strange, but for so many of us, the stress and anxiety we experience in everyday life hangs around for longer than is necessary or healthy, manifesting as tension in the jaw and shoulders, chronic pain and muscular imbalances. As Author and therapist Denise La Barre says; you’ve probably got ‘issues in your tissues’.
If you’ve ever received a massage, practiced a yoga class, experienced progressive relaxation, breathwork, EFT, Trauma-Release-Exercise or any other therapy designed to help release stress and tension from the body and mind, you’ll have felt how intrinsically linked our physicality is to our psychology. Whilst it’s highly beneficial to work 1-2-1 with therapists and body workers, there are times when we need the tools to give ourselves a helping hand. Read on to discover some of the techniques you can use for stress release and letting go of tension from your body and mind.
Shaking is one of the most natural, primal things living beings do on a regular basis. Also known as ‘tremors’, spontaneously shaking is a built-in response to stress, and is a vital part of releasing stress from the body and mind, and preventing a build-up of stored anxiety. To paint a picture of this necessary response, we’ll use a deer as an example. When a deer is chased by a predator, its fight-or-flight response kicks into overdrive, alerting the animal to run for its life, shooting blood to the muscles of the legs, releasing adrenaline, raising heartrate and blood pressure, and dilating the pupils to sharpen vision. Assuming the deer out runs its predator and lives to tell the tale, it slows down and begins to shake and tremor. From the outside, it may look as though the deer is shaking with fear, but it’s actually releasing the built-up tension and returning itself back to homeostasis. This shaking is known as ‘neurogenic tremors’, which help reduce over activity in the hypothalamus-pituitary-axis gland (or HPA axis). This is important because the HPA axis is responsible largely for our stress response, emotions, stored memories, trauma, energy storage and release of energy. A disruption in the HPA axis – especially when it comes to stress – can cause hormonal imbalances and fertility issues, sudden weight loss, weakness, fatigue and chronic stress, and a large part of healing it comes down to reducing the amount of stress the body and mind are holding.
If these neurogenic tremors are such a natural part of life then, you might wonder why we don’t all shake off daily stressors? Why don’t we get in from work and shake? Why don’t we shake off an argument or piece of bad news? Well, the thing is that we naturally would shake the stress off, but due to years of conditioning, and with public tremoring not necessarily socially acceptable, we sub consciously repress it, instead reaching for something else to smother the stress such as chocolate, sugar, wine, social media, intense exercise or anything else we reach for when times get tough. Of course, exercise is a fantastic way to release pent-up stress, but it often doesn’t get to the root of the issue, and can usually become something we turn to in order to ignore life’s problems. A 5k run may make us feel better on the surface, but we can’t run from our anxiety forever….
To start rebalancing the body and mind and really make a difference to the amount of stress, tension and anxiety we’re potentially holding, shaking is a fantastic practice we can do on a daily basis. Simply stand or lie down, take a couple of long, slow breaths, then begin to shake your entire body. Shake your arms, legs, torso, head, jump on the spot and try not to structure any of the movements. Let go of any concern as to what it looks like. There is no wrong or right. Let your body guide you and respond to any places it needs to shake and release. Aim to do this for around 5 minutes, and finish by lying in savasana to allow the body to settle. If you want to work with deeper-held issues or experience ‘trauma & tension release exercises’ which help essentially ‘switch on’ the body’s natural tremoring response again, I’d highly recommend booking a session with a TRE provider.
Self Massage & Trigger Points
It’s unbelievable how deeply connected the body is, and how the web of fascia wrapping around our muscles, organs and skin means tension in the glutes or legs could be directly linked to tension in the jaw or tight shoulder muscles. Our bodies of course aren’t made up of separate Lego parts stuck together; the body is completely connected as one whole piece via the fascial web of connective tissue. Fascia has also come to be thought of as an important link to relieving emotional stress, as the act of releasing adhesions or ‘knots’ within this connective tissue can very often release emotions too. We all hold tension in different places, so it’s worth spending time exploring where you experience held physical and emotional stress, or visiting a bodyworker. There are however, a few places that are common hot-spots for tension, and these can be worked on and helped to release with the use of a massage ball, tennis ball, or any sturdy ball you have to hand:
Yep, we often hold a lot of tension in the glutes (they are, after all, very helpful for helping us run away from danger when the fight-or-flight response kicks in), and releasing them can simultaneously release tension in the hamstrings and lower back. To practice this, place a ball next to you on the ground. Sit on the floor with the knees bent and feet on the floor too. Cross your right ankle over the opposite knee, and use your hands to lift your hips off the floor. Hover your hips over the ball, then slowly lower down so your body weight provides the pressure needed for the ball to massage the tissues. Roll slowly around the glute muscles for a few minutes – if you find any areas of tension or tenderness, stay in that spot for a little longer. Remember to breathe slowly throughout, then repeat on the other side.
This area is difficult to stretch on the surface, so massaging can make a big difference. This practice is similar to a strange technique known as ‘gut smashing’, involving deeply massaging the stomach and internal organs. To practice this, lie on the ground facing down with the ball next to your right hip. Move the ball directly underneath the right hand side of your pelvis, between your hip flexor and navel. Allow your body weight to press into the ball, and slowly move around, allowing the ball to massage the hip flexors and lower stomach – pause every so often to take a deep exhale, and as you do, allow the ball to press deeper. By doing this you may feel the ball pressing into and massaging the psoas, which has been thought of for a long time to be the main muscle involved in the stress response, thus massaging it can help instead elicit the ‘relaxation response’. Repeat the process on the other side.
The Upper Back:
If we feel stressed or under pressure, it’s common to feel the shoulders holding on to a lot of the pressure too. Working at a desk can also contribute to tension in the shoulders and neck so this is a great technique to practice regularly if you have a desk job. To practice this, lean against a wall and place the ball between your upper back and the wall, lean back so your body weight is pressing into the ball and begin to move slowly from side to side and up and down. You’ll feel the ball massaging knots and tight muscles of the shoulders, and again if you feel any particularly tense areas, stay here a little longer and wait for the muscles to release. Repeat this on both sides of the upper back, breathing fully and slowly as you go.
An ancient Qi Gong technique traditionally known as body ‘drumming’, body tapping is exactly as it sounds – tapping your body with your hands. A wonderful way to boost circulation and energy levels, body tapping is also great for refreshing and re-setting perspective at any time of day, especially if you find yourself caught up in anxious thoughts. The more modern technique of EFT uses tapping to overcome trauma, addictions and compulsive behaviours, pairing the tapping with specific phrases. To practice body tapping, simply use your hands to tap from the feet upwards, moving in a clockwise direction around the stomach, and using your fingers to gently tap the face and head. Neurolymphatic points are located throughout the body, and tapping on these can also help rebalance energy levels. Try the ‘thymus thump’, which involves tapping on the breast bone, followed by tapping on the spleen neurolymphatic points between the 7th and 8th rib on both sides of the body, and under the eyes on the cheekbone – these points under the eyes are linked to the stomach and earth meridian, harmonising the body’s grounding earth energy.
Emma is a 500hr qualified Yoga teacher, musician, massage therapist, cook, and writer. Having grown up surrounded by Yoga and meditation, Emma began her practice at a young age and has continued to study and develop her understanding of Yoga on a daily basis. Training internationally with inspirational teachers, Emma’s passions now lie primarily in philosophy and Yoga off the mat. Emma currently teaches regularly in Sussex, co-leading teacher trainings, retreats, workshops and kirtans, and also manages the Brighton Yoga Festival.