Stress, Trapped Emotions, and “Exercising” Our Demons

I like to think I am a pretty grounded guy – I try not to sweat the small stuff and go with the flow of life. Recently, after a move to a new city that turned sour quickly due to traumatic living conditions, I had to come to the realization that I wasn’t being myself. I was stressed and was resistive to what life had to offer. My spirit had been killed, and I was acting out by being a complete and utter asshole. This episode also brought up deep, subconscious childhood emotions that I had no clue still existed. I was holding on to emotional stress, and not using any productive methods to release and DISCHARGE my trapped energy.

As with most things in my life, I try to use my own experiences for further self-discovery. So what better time to revisit my toolbox of discharging methods to not only help myself, but hopefully help others along the same journey.

We all know that exercise is good for us. It not only keeps our bodies in healthy functional shape, but it lowers levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. At the same time it releases feel-good endorphins that also have pain-relieving effects. As an added benefit it allows us to sleep better which keeps the viscous cycle from becoming even more stressful. Just in daily life, when I feel anxious, fearful, tense – I know that my best medicine is exercise. It clears my head and allows my body to yield because I have worked out the internal stress and released it.

The weeks during and after this traumatic episode made me feel neurotic. I was having a hard time breathing fully, and this only helped to fuel my anxious mind. Since I was not able to express myself freely, my body became even more bound by trapped energy. I normally have a good cry during my drives around the Alabama landscape, but I was completely numb to my usual release. Our society teaches men to hold back their emotions for they are seen as weakness, but I believe emotions help us connect to our true desires. My lack of expression was making me depressed, and I knew I had to take action before I dug my rut any deeper.

I was finally free of my bad episode of a move, and was in the safety of my own apartment. I was still in a very charged state and knew I needed to release my internal stress. I started to attack the weights, and became consumed by the aggression I was pouring into the iron. Grunts abound as the motion of my body was becoming medicine for my soul. I was sweating as if my skin was crying and my mind raced with all the flashes of stress I had just escaped from experiencing. Finally, an hour had past and my body felt light – I was high for the first time in a month. My body was rewarding me for my exertion with a flood of happy chemicals, and I felt liberated from the stresses that had been eating away at me.

I took a sip of water, and tasted the distinct flavor of cough medicine – a despised ritual I had not practiced since I was a small child. I was instantly brought back to a childhood emotion that I had no clue still had life to it. I was drawn to a corner of my room where I got into the yoga asana of child’s pose. The proclamation of “daddy, daddy, daddy,” came pouring out of my mouth. As if by magic, tears of liberation came pouring out of my eyes. This whole traumatic moving experience had tapped into a part of my childhood baggage that I had been carrying around unknowingly for all these years. I was finally no longer numb and was allowing the emotion to freely express itself. A weight had been lifted, and my muscles were free and relaxed – I had ‘exercised’ out my demon that I had been holding onto for years.

When we use our muscular system to hold back our emotions, we are keeping those emotions from being expressed and released. They stay with us and we do not allow the trauma cycle to complete itself. Just think about that last time you had to bite your tongue or hold back from saying something – Your jaw and neck muscles had to tighten up to PHYSICALLY hold back the words wanting to come out of that area of your body. Another example, you get upset and you tense to keep yourself from becoming physically violent or you are sad and your face muscles have to hold back the tears because you are too afraid to cry in the moment. Ultimately, we hold onto the stress.

Stress

Stress is known as the silent killer. Our bodies developed during a time when we could fall prey to beasts and had to hunt for food. A “fight or flight” response would take place to help us survive the situation. This “fight or flight” response is an activation of what is known as our sympathetic nervous system. Today, the normal dealings of modern life can trigger the same stress response. Since the body thinks you are in imminent danger, it pulls extra resources to help you “get out of harms way”. If exposed to chronic stress over long periods, it can be taxing to the system and ultimately our health.

Commenting on her new stress study, Carolyn Aldwin, director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research at Oregon State University, “People who always perceived their daily life to be over-the-top stressful were three times more likely to die over the period of study than people who rolled with the punches and didn’t find daily life very stressful.” 

fightorflight

The Autonomic Nervous System

Imagine a boiling pot of water with a lid on top. If you let all the boiling steam stay trapped, the container will eventually burst. However, if you have a vent for the steam to release itself, it doesn’t boil over into something uncontrollable. Considering stress is a normal part of life, it is important to use methods to discharge this energy                                      .

Bioenergetics

If you ever observe a child, they are in constant motion. They are always expressing themselves fully with their bodies. One day, society will condition them to reign in these fidgets (“Sit down! Shut up! That’s dangerous! You’re too small!”), but until then, they can freely release what their internal tension brings about. A child will jump around, move their appendages in random directions, and scream. We get older and have certain experiences that make us stay in our heads instead of expressing through our bodies.  We learn to “control” ourselves, to “be good”.  We sacrifice our desires for the approval of others.

William Reich, a 20th century psychoanalyst, had the same belief that blocked emotions could get trapped in our body’s musculature. Reich believed in working directly on the muscle clusters in order to bring about emotional release and subsequent freedom from the suppression. According to Philip Burnard inCounselling Skills for Health Professionals”, Reich noted that anger was frequently ‘trapped’ in the muscles of the shoulders, grief in the muscles surrounding the stomach and fear in the leg muscles. Often these trapped emotions lead to chronic postural problems. Sometimes, the thorough release of the blocked emotion could lead to a freeing up of the muscles and an improved physical appearance. Eventually, based on Reich’s work, Alexander Lowen developed a particular type of mind-body therapy, known as ‘bioenergetics.’

The philosophies of the East have long mentioned “to let go” as a means of obtaining happiness in this life. Mixing Reich’s belief with the Eastern belief, one could see how a confident, happy person would have the posture that reflects this inner life and a sad, frustrated, depressed individual would have the external posture lacking in positivity and confidence. The lack of letting go has manifested the “weight of the world” on the shoulders of the depressed. For when the body is stressed, it is not at a balanced state of homeostasis. Life will always throw stress your way, but that is okay. Certain levels of stress are healthy and allow us to grow, but it is when it is constant with no methods of release that stress can affect our health. Knowing that life is inherently stressful, we must use different methods to help tune our bodies back to a balanced state.

I like to think of it this way, our bodies are like a stringed instrument. If you imagine a guitar with a string that is bound too tight – it produces a disharmonious sound. However, if we can release that tension and bring it back to its natural pitch, the string produces a beautiful vibration that others can hear and feel. Likewise, if a string is too lose and flat – it wont produce any music. It is all about finding the balance.

Methods of Discharging Internal Energy

!Move your body!

Movement helps facilitate fresh blood filled with nutrients to our cells. It allows our muscles to go from contracted to relaxed states (and vice versa) and bring muscles through their full range of motion.  It releases happy chemicals and gives us a better sense of well-being.  Examples:

  • Structured exercise programs     Like one from me
  • Walking – especially in nature.
  • Running
  • Dancing
  • Yoga
  • Martial Arts
  • Jumping up and down and letting the vibrations freely move through the body.

Express your inner side to the outer world.

  • Create through some medium
  • Music
  • Visual Arts
  • Poetry/Writing – the writing of this article was a therapeutic release for me.
  • Dance
  • Talk to someone – words left unspoken can eat away at us.

 

Vents

  • Meditate – Brings insight and awareness to actions in life. Allows you to identify personal stressors and ways to avoid or lesson them. Essentially, breaking up the negative cycles present in your life. Research also shows that it lowers levels of stress hormones and improves neuroplasticity.
  • Yoga – try Lion’s Pose to help free up tension in the face, neck, and chest

lion pose

  • Breathing exercises – if the musculature surrounding the areas needed for breathing are tight, the person can experience difficulty breathing. This lack of productive breathing can lead to anxiety since the body is receiving distress signals due to lack of oxygen.  Breathe deeply into your pelvic floor to avoid shallow chest breathing.
  • Chanting – such as “OM” or “Laa ilaaha illaallah” or “Hallelujah” with strict pronunciation.  Uses muscles of the respiratory pathways and allows deep resonating sounds to “massage” and open up the body.

 

I will leave you with this thought by Harvard Psychiatrist Dr. Robert Waldinger in a recent NPR interview, “If you could give one magic pill that would improve physical health, improve mood, reduce weight – what would that magic drug be?  EXERCISE.”

 

If you want to explore more of these ideas, check out Elliot Hulse’s video below that explains many of my ideas in a clear, concise manner.

Ready to reign in your health? Birmingham, Alabama Residents – Contact me for a FREE Personal Training Consultation: CLICK HERE

One thought on “Stress, Trapped Emotions, and “Exercising” Our Demons

  1. Just found your youtube videos Elliot and I love them. My back ground is in complimentary therapies, addictions and also more recently case work for Aboriginal families who are trying to get their children back in to their care (I`m English) living in Australia. So my passion is gearing towards releasing trauma, especially from the body. So this information is so valuable. I`d ideally love to run something privately in this area, maybe one day! but thanks Elliot

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