Trauma, Stress and Anxiety: The Body Connection
Body centered therapies such as integrative massage and craniosacral work activate the parasympathetic nervous system, quiet the fight-or-flight responses and reduce pain, stress, emotional and mental health issues. Studies have shown that bodywork decreases cortisol (a stress hormone) and increases serotonin and dopamine (feel-good hormones). Imbalances in these hormones can be caused by stress, trauma, grief, loss, illness and injury.
This article, published by the International Journal of Neuroscience, documents scientific research showing that massage decreased stress hormones & increased neurotransmitters. The studies found a significant decrease in cortisol (average 31%) and significant increases in serotonin (average 28%). In this fascinating study, researchers looked at depression (including sex abuse and eating disorder studies), pain syndrome studies, research on autoimmune conditions (including asthma and chronic fatigue), immune studies (including HIV and breast cancer), and stress on the job, the stress of aging, and pregnancy stress.
Integrative Bodywork recognizes that pain and trauma affect the whole person: body mind and spirit. Many traditional therapists, including MDs, mental health professionals, and even some massage therapists, treat body, mind and spirit with completely separate tools. Integrative bodywork does not separate.
Bessell Van Der Kolk, one of the nation’s leading experts on PTSD and trauma recovery, recommends including massage, craniosacral therapy, yoga and other integrative body therapies in mental health treatment plans for PTSD. In his book, “The Body Keeps the Score, he says quite simply, “you can’t fully recover if you don’t feel safe in your skin”.That is where bodyworkers come in.
In my nearly ten years of hands on experience I’ve learned that touch is instrumental in increasing clients body awareness. This helps with emotional healing because trauma, anxiety and stress create a disconnection between certain parts of the brain and cognition. Bodywork is not a substitute for mental health therapy, but a powerful adjunct therapy that can greatly assist in a person’s recovery from trauma, stress, anxiety or PTSD.
How to find a practitioner
Above all else, find a practitioner you feel comfortable with. There are many therapists to choose from, so take your time and make sure you can trust them and the space they provide. You might connect best with therapists who exhibit qualities of nurturing, empathy and intuition.
Looks for therapists with some of the following qualities
- Advanced training & experience
- Professional boundaries
- Certifications & credentials
- Adaptable: practice a variety of modalities
- Know how to listen to clients
- Experience with trauma or mental illness
- Mindfulness training or spiritual practice
- Knowledgeable about local resources
- Willing and able to refer or work in partnership with other professionals
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and take some time to talk with bodyworkers you are considering. Let them know any fears, concerns, hopes and goals you have, and if you are working with a therapist or health practitioner already. Don’t rush any part of the process. Deep and lasting healing from emotional pain will take patience, time and a commitment from both you and your practitioners, and it will be worth it.
Jessica Gutierrez uses gentle touch, light to moderate pressure, deep listening and mindfulness practices to help the brain and body re-connect in a safe, therapeutic environment using CranioSacral Therapy, Integrative Massage, Intuitive & Energy Work.
“Amazing Cranial Sacral work with Jessica. Tons of release during session and after. Extremely tight neck/shoulder muscles, prone to migraines, Jessica was able to release the tightness. Also working thru early complex childhood trauma and she met me right where I needed which was magical by itself. Thanks so much my Sunshine Healer!!” ~Mary Baron, Auburn CA