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In trauma survivors, your sense of how much arousal you can tolerate can be skewed. When I talk about arousal here, I don't mean sexy arousal; instead I'm talking about nervous system arousal. Trauma can jack up your nervous system's ability to manage arousal. People experience both hyperarousal (generally thought of as fight/flight) and hypoarousal (generally thought of as freeze). The window of tolerance is the amount of hypo- & hyper- arousal that you can tolerate.

Ideally, your window should include a bit of both hypo- and hyper- arousal. If it's really difficult for you to handle any hypoarousal, even common emotional experiences like boredom may feel positively intolerable for you. On the other hand, if you mostly live in hypoarousal, and have a difficult time tolerating any amount of nervous system arousal, you may find that you can't engage in a lot of your life because you're basically living in shutdown.

For some trauma survivors, this window might be very narrow and/or skewed. If this is the case, we want to work on expanding the window to allow for the client to expand their ability to cope with life. Movement is one tool that can help to move between states.

Sometimes, when you're in hypoarousal, it may help to get up and literally shake it off. If you find yourself in a dissociated or kind of shutdown state, give this a try! You can get up from where you are, and shake your arms and head out. Try shaking your legs a little bit. Maybe flick your hands, as though you were trying to flick water off of them.

In hyperarousal, it might help to do ball slams or other big, full body, powerful feeling movements. Experiment with what feels best in your body to expel that energy.

Recovering from trauma can be a long and layered journey. Movement can be one powerful tool in supporting you along your way.


Interested in using movement in your trauma recovery journey? I'll be leading an 8 week trauma informed barbell program in Philly starting on 09/11/2022. Learn more here.

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