Imagine you are walking through the woods and come across a bear.  Immediately, your body recognizes this as a potential threat and activates the nervous system, and releases a rush of stress hormones, cortisol, and epinephrine (adrenalin). These hormones are what give us extra strength, energy, focus, and speed to keep ourselves safe from threats. The heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens, and senses become sharper as the body prepares to defend/ protect itself against the threat. This is the fight /flight response. This is natural and good when facing a physical threat because it is self-protective.

After the bear walks away and the threat is gone, the body begins to calm itself. At this point, the body may start to shake. This is an involuntary response that moves the stress hormones from the nervous system so they can be processed and expelled from the body. Slowly, the shaking reduces, and the body once again returns to its homeostatic state. Involuntary shaking is most common following sudden, high-intensity events such as encountering a bear, a car accident (or near miss), assaults, etc.

The nervous system can be activated by any stressful situation that threatens our sense of well-being or disrupts our equilibrium. Often these are low to mid-intensity events or circumstances that build over time and often don’t have a clear end point causing the stress hormones to build up in the body. Without a clear endpoint or resolution, the body’s natural systems are not given the “all clear” signal to tell it that the threat is passed, and the natural calming process never begins. Instead, the stress hormones continue to build in the nervous system causing stress symptoms like headaches, muscle tension, cardiovascular issues, digestive issues, cognitive problems, depression, anxiety, sleep disruptions, moodiness, irritability, addictions, etc.

Common causes of stress include:

• Major life changes

• Work or school

• Relationship difficulties

• Financial problems

• Being too busy

• Children and Family

• Chronic worry

• Pessimism

• Negative self-talk

• Unrealistic expectations/Perfectionism

• Rigid thinking, lack of flexibility

• All-or-nothing attitude

This is where the “shake it off” technique can be an invaluable tool to give the stressed-out nervous system a quick reset.  Like the involuntary shaking response to an intense event, shaking can also be used intentionally to release the build-up of stress in the body.  Shaking is like pulling the plug in an overflowing sink, allowing the adrenaline and cortisol to flow out of the nervous system.

Here is how to “shake it off”. Stand up. Begin by shaking your arms, shake them vigorously. Continue shaking your arms as you add in your legs, shaking them alternately. Now add your whole body, and then your head. Vigorously continue shaking for another 10-15 seconds. Then stop and take a few slow deep breaths.

The shaking method is just one step in managing stress. Like the overflowing sink, pulling the plug doesn’t stop the flow of water into the sink (the causes of stress) and there may be a clog in the drain (poor coping strategies) that needs to be addressed. But it is a good start.

Often clients have reported feeling so stressed out that they find it difficult to engage in other stress management techniques like mindfulness, breathing exercises, imagery, etc. But by shaking it off first, having the quick reset, they are better able to relax enough to engage in other stress management activities more effectively. The better they can manage their stress, the easier they are able to come up with solutions to reduce the presence of stressful situations in their lives.

Talking to a specialist might be an excellent way to manage your stress and develop stress management techniques that work for you.
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