Trauma Reducing Exercises for Stress and Anxiety Relief

Feeling Overwhelmed & Stressed

In the Roaring Fork Valley, mental health services are limited; especially for Spanish speaking persons. And even if someone was capable of accessing these services, chances are they are cost prohibitive. Many teens report having stress and anxiety and statistics show that many will or have experienced some form of trauma in their early lives.
So what are teens to do when feeling overwhelmed, stressed or just need to let go? Every week Garfield County PREP interns meet to learn new skills in their quest to advocate for and develop healthy life skills. This week they were introduced to Trauma Releasing Exercises, aka TRE, for stress and anxiety relief.

TRE Preparation

Trauma Releasing Exercises for Tension Release

Thanks to Family Visitor Programs’ board member Betsy Bowie, PREP interns learned the seven exercises needed to prepare the muscles for tremoring as a mechanism to release tension from the psoas muscles initially. As practice continues and improves, the body becomes conditioned to release tension above the pelvic area as well. No, these teens aren’t twerking! They’re building stress in the legs and buttocks. With laughter, of course!

Being teens, they inevitably found ways to distract themselves from the building tension in their muscles during the exercise where you sit against a wall as if you were in a chair. As the tension builds to about a 7, you are instructed to rise a few inches and keep going. Modifications were also offered for those who suffer from injury.

Trauma Releasing Exercises               TRE Tension Building     Releasing Trauma with Exercise

Let the Tremors Begin

Once the muscles were primed through trauma releasing exercises, we took our places on the floor and let the tremoring release begin. Betsy guided us slowly and carefully with instructions on how to make it stop if one becomes uncomfortable for any reason. All we had to do was straighten our legs and flex our toes toward the ceiling. Once comfortable to proceed again, she showed us how you resume the tremoring with the ability to increase and decrease the movements and intensity.

After about an hour and a half of learning the philosophy and then practicing, we took some time for reflection and journaling. Interns had been asked to note a number 1 thru 10 before we started on their level of stress and then asked to look inward to note where that number was afterwards. This is what one teen journaled and agreed to share:

Reflections“When we first started out this exercise, my number of stress was at a 5. I felt this way because of the stress from not having been productive the past few days and residual stress from my previous trip. There wasn’t much pain during the exercise. The tremoring experience was quite strange. I could quickly feel my body shaking but my mind felt like I needed to stop it. I definitely feel far more relaxed and calmed down. Something else I noticed was the reduced pain in my back which I had noticed at the beginning of the exercise. It would be helpful for me to use it before I sleep in order to get better rest. I’ll attempt to do this again at home and discover the different results.”

Thumbs Up to TRE

Trauma Releasing Exercise is not your mainstream exercise or stress relief routine yet all the interns gave it a thumbs up! They can pack this healthy life skill in their toolbox and carry it with them throughout their life’s journey which will inevitably include some stressful or traumatic moments in need of release.

Support Youth With Trauma Informed Care

by Diana Andrews, Garfield County PREP Program Manager

Often times when people discuss the effects of trauma on our youth, the trauma is thought to be only sexual or violent in nature. While any child who has experienced this kind of trauma needs support and understanding to make sense of their behaviors, so do children who have experienced all kinds of trauma; violent and otherwise. Teachers and adults who work with children and understand the effects of trauma on learning and behavior can make great strides in reducing classroom outbursts or disruptions by understanding what may trigger such behaviors.

trauma

www.bowencollege.com

So what is Trauma? Trauma, according to the American Psychological Association, is an emotional response to a terrible event. They cite examples such as rape, natural disasters, and accidents. The Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice further defines trauma to include experiences or situations that are emotionally painful and distressing. It is understood that these experiences can overwhelm someone’s ability to cope.

Estimations suggest that one half to two thirds of children have experienced some kind of traumatic event. However, it is accepted that not all children will be traumatized, and even if they are, they don’t always react negatively. Despite the level of traumatization and subsequent reactions, being a trauma informed adult who knows how to deliver trauma informed care can not only provide much needed support, it can also reduce frustration, misunderstanding and misdirected punishments when behaviors become disruptive.

water cycle

http://www.outsideclassroomboards.co.uk/

So what are Trauma Informed and Trauma Informed Care? Those who are ‘trauma informed’ recognize that people often have many different types of trauma in their lives, need support and understanding from those around them and can be re-traumatized by well-meaning caregivers and service providers.

Knowing what I know now, I realize that I may have been one of these ‘well-meaning caregivers’ who re-traumatized a young 4th grade student in my classroom when teaching something as seemingly benign as the water cycle. You see, this young student had been displaced from Hurricane Katrina and relocated to Iowa to live with family.

Hurricane Katrina

simerg.com

Not being a trauma-informed teacher, I mistakenly thought that having family, a warm place to stay and food to eat would wrap this sweet thing with enough protective factors that she would be able to successfully cope. I certainly was not equipped to provide her any level of trauma informed care in my classroom. That is, a structure and framework that involved understanding, recognizing and responding to the effects of her trauma.

I was not knowledgeable enough to know how to provide the physical, psychological and emotional safety she needed. I was not helping her to rebuild her sense of control and empowerment over her situation. She did not receive the trauma informed care that she most likely needed. The connections between her traumatic experience and how she may have been re-traumatized by the water cycle lessons were never made.

Child in need of help

lifescapesolutions.com

On those days when she exploded her ink pens in her hand, was she being triggered? If so, then I doubt my concern over what her parents would say when she came home with her skin and clothes stained with ink or my removal of all ink-filled items from her desk and placed out of reach in any way provided her the care she needed. To my credit, I did replace the ink pens with a drinking straw so that her need to fidget with her hands wasn’t completely removed. But likely something happened or was said in the classroom to trigger her need to cut that straw into a multitude of tiny, little pieces. I often wonder what became of this young person as I wish I knew then what I know now.

Unfortunately, I have been reminded of my misguided reactions a lot lately. Two nephews and a niece have recently experienced the death of a young doctor from their parents’ practice, the death of another young man whom they looked up to as a friend and role model while another dear friend fights to regain his life and survive a serious brain injury; all the result of two separate car accidents in one week. The trauma has affected at least one nephew who admittedly struggles to concentrate on his homework and has emotional outbursts.

sad child

www.arounddublinblog.com

He tries to process his pain and young understanding of life and death by channeling his negative energy into his wrestling. He is winning his matches, because he wants to honor the young man who is still fighting to live. But what happens when he isn’t successful in channeling this energy with wins? How will his coaches and teachers respond? What kind of additional trauma; such as deep feelings of responsibility, might there be if he loses a match, if the friend doesn’t make it? Similar questions are coming to mind as the town I live in deals with not only the loss of a beloved elementary teacher but now her young daughter who also passed as a result of her injuries. How will her classmates handle the trauma of losing their young friend?

Trauma Informed Care

http://mps.milwaukee.k12.wi.us/

What are the teachers and school staff likely to see if these young people are triggered in their schools? Will they recognize the anxiety, fear, worry, changes in behavior such as angry outbursts, irritability or a change in academic performance, heightened difficulty with authority, redirection or criticism, over and under reactions to environmental stimuli, emotional numbing and/or repetitive thoughts and comments about death that are common responses? Or will they see these as behavioral issues that demand punitive measures or a ‘fix’?
If they are trauma-informed, then they will provide care that has a structural framework in place to support their students with compassion and understanding regardless of the type of trauma that was experienced. Triggers can be anticipated and aversion plans put in place. With a trauma-informed lens to behaviors in the classroom, they may just find a different kind of success with what may have once been approached as classroom management issues.

They may not have to wonder years later about how they missed the boat when faced with a student who had been so seemingly traumatized by her experiences with water.

If you would like to learn more, please contact garfieldcountyprep@gmail.com or consult the following resources:
Child Trauma Resources
Trauma Focused – Cognitive Behavioral Training
Child Trauma and Brain Research
Refugee Trauma Information