Using TRE in Eating Disorder Treatment
Descartes said “I think; therefore I am” – and that describes a lot of what it means to be a human being. If we add emotions to the adage – “I think and feel; therefore I am” – then we’ve got a good summation of how our thoughts, feelings and physical bodies interact with and influence each other.
Following that, somatization, the idea that trauma and stress can be manifested as ailments, is easy to understand. We’ve probably all experienced getting sick after some period of anxiousness. The concept of storing these negative emotions as tension in our muscles is even more obvious.
Direct treatment such as massage can be used to ease that type of pain, so what if different movements could be used to release the anxiety or stored trauma? Those who practice TRE say that it can.
What is TRE?
The acronym stands for Tension and Trauma Release Exercises – which is a perfect description of what TRE is. This specific set of movements was developed by Dr. David Bercelli, PhD, who specialised in conflict resolution and spent years in areas with extremely high levels of violence.
Working in a bomb shelter, Dr. Bercelli noticed that most people assumed the same pose when they heard an air raid – they would curl into a foetal position and cover their head with their hands. He also saw that after the raids, children would tremble or shake but adults did not. The behaviours seemed to be innate, but somehow lessened as people got older.
From here, he developed TRE to elicit and regulate the shaking response in people. Essentially, the exercises activate the natural shaking reflex, and the vibrations release tension and calm down the nervous system.
Anytime tension is released in the body, a reduction in pain levels is registered by the brain, and hormones associated with comfort and relaxation are released. And this phenomenon isn’t unique to humans; examples can be seen across the animal kingdom. Cats purring is especially effective – there’s an old vets’ saying that “if you put a cat and a bunch of broken bones in the same room, the bones will heal”.
Releasing Exercises and Eating Disorders
Building TRE into a plan to deal with an eating disorder can be very helpful. Acting out on disordered behaviours will create its own stress, in addition to whatever negative situation (be it past traumas or current anxieties) is triggering the behaviour in the first place. This is also true for any other kind of maladaptive coping mechanism, from substance abuse to irrational anger.
Performing the releasing exercises restores homeostasis, so that you can literally let the feelings go. What really amazes people after they’ve tried TRE, is that they don’t have to relive the trauma or stressful events in order for this release to happen. If you’re working on learning new patterns of thinking and reacting at the same time, such as in therapy or treatment, the TRE will be even more effective.
Learning the set of movements is especially beneficial to someone with an eating disorder. Physical activity often helps sufferers feel better about their bodies, and using it to help heal thoughts and feelings increases that sense of wellbeing. Those who have tried TRE speak of learning that they can work with their bodies, instead of against them.
Tension and Trauma Release Exercises are also very empowering; once you know how to do them, you can perform the movements on your own, as and when you need to. Think of them as a tool in your mental health arsenal – along with reaching out to others, journaling, therapy, deep breathing and the other strategies you use – and a powerful one at that.