Do the 'trauma release' exercises you've seen all over TikTok actually work?
From PregnancyTok to FitTok, there's really no end to the weird (yet often wonderful) scroll holes that you can find yourself falling into on TikTok. But a surprise corner of the social media platform seems to be having a real moment as of late. Introducing TraumaTok – where users are sharing their mental health tips to help others work through trauma.
In particular trauma release exercises, also known as 'somatic experiencing', have been trending on TikTok with over 4.7 million views under the trauma release exercises hashtag. But, what actually are trauma release exercises, and do they even work? To find out more about trauma release exercises and somatic experiencing we spoke to Dr Elena Touroni, a consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, as well as Jodie Cariss, founder of high-street therapy service, Self Space.
(Side note: before we get started, it's important to remember that social media shouldn't replace the advice of a medical professional. So, if you are struggling with past trauma, or your mental health in general, please speak to your doctor as a priority.)
Is trauma stored in the body?
In order to understand why trauma release exercises work, you need to understand how your body stores trauma. As for whether trauma is stored in the mind or the body, Cariss tells us: "Both. The body holds the score, which means we might notice somatic pain, stress or ailments before we notice we might be struggling with our mental health, eg. holding on to feelings or not processing difficult things in our lives."
"Usually, it tends to be stored in both," agrees Dr Touroni. "It can also depend on the age we were when a trauma occurred and how much we were able to process it at the time."
What happens if you hold onto your trauma?
Storing your trauma, rather than working through it, can have real, physical effects on your body – which is why exercises to help relieve it are so important. "[Trauma] can sometimes manifest in symptoms that are more physical," notes Dr Touroni. "For example, you may have difficulties with sleeping, experience low mood that doesn’t connect to anything in particular or have physical symptoms that lack a medical diagnosis."
"We often try to treat the symptom rather than investigate the root cause," adds Cariss. "Tummy troubles, headaches and skin conditions are notoriously linked to emotions and our mental health. So, try to think of yourself as a holistic being, with all things connected."
If you hold onto your trauma, this can become "stuck" she theorises. Eventually, the trauma will "build in intensity or transmute into different aspects of the psyche." As for the impact this can have, Cariss explains you "might find you are permanently fatigued or constantly itching your scalp or struggling with your digestion." When we notice these physical ailments, we assume they need a physical fix, rather than tending to our "relationship issues or past grief."
"Somehow it feels easier and more tangible to treat a physical symptom," Cariss points out. "Feelings will almost always find a way out of being listened to, so look out for the signs."
So, what is somatic experiencing?
"Somatic experiencing is a type of alternative therapy that aims to treat trauma through the mind-body connection," Dr Touroni tells us. "The main way it tries to achieve this is through some form of processing."
A somatic experience is where we are able to provide the nervous system with a creative opportunity to process, move and transmute emotions through the body unconsciously, Cariss adds. "By doing this, we provide a vehicle for our unconscious matter to be processed that is not purely through words."
Something you might have already been doing in your daily life that can help release trauma is dancing, an action that Cariss suggests can help "move our emotions on." In fact, the expert points out that when we give it the opportunity to do so, our bodies and minds can self-regulate. "Art, movement and creative expression all work somatically to support catharsis," she notes. "This is why sport and exercise are so often linked to feelings of wellbeing."
Commenting on the trauma release exercises you might have seen on your timeline, Dr Touroni says these "kinds of mind-body techniques work to release any pent-up tension and deep-rooted negative emotions in the body."
What trauma release exercises can you try at home?
"Stretching, moving to music, dancing, shaking out, breathing, painting, making, jumping on the trampoline, liberated movement and walking with no purpose to get somewhere all allow something to happen within your personal ecosystem that encourages re-balancing," says Cariss. "This should not replace more focused work but it does provide micro-chances for moving emotions from one thing to another."
However, before diving right into the world of trauma release TikToks, Dr Touroni adds: "I would always recommend practising these kinds of exercises alongside the help of a professional."
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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