‘If you are experiencing strange symptoms that no one seems to be able to explain, they could be arising from a traumatic reaction to a past event that you may not even remember.’ These are the words of Peter Levine (1997), psychologist, renowned author, and pioneer in the field of the intricate connections between the body and the mind in the aftermath of trauma.

How does all of this work? Why do we experience physical symptoms because of stress or trauma? When we’re faced with a potential threat, the body’s stress response immediately kicks into gear, activating the sympathetic nervous system state (also known as fight or flight). This response is a survival mechanism, trying to protect you through mobilization – to enable you to either run away or fight for survival. The ideal, of course, would be to use this surge of energy, but if for some reason this couldn’t happen, these incomplete actions can become trapped in the body long after the traumatic event is over. This is more likely to occur if you had no way to protect yourself or escape from the traumatic experience back then (Schwartz, A, 2022: 59). The stress remains stored in the body for many years and could have consequences on our physical health, leading to many different issues including headaches, digestive problems, chronic pain conditions (Schwartz, A, 2022) as well as hyperarousal, hyperactivity, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, chronic fatigue, low physical energy, immune system issues, hormonal issues, back and neck problems, severe PMS and asthma (Levine, A. P, 1997:148).

What’s important to understand, however, is that these symptoms are not necessarily caused by the traumatic event itself. They are caused by the energy that remains trapped in the nervous system which didn’t have a chance to discharge at the time of the event. Peter Levine calls this a ‘frozen residue of energy’(Levine, A. P. 1997).

Elaine Wilkins, multi-award-winning pioneering founder of ‘The Trauma-Informed Wellbeing Coach’ who takes a trauma-informed approach to working with fibromyalgia and multiple sclerosis patients, found that “If someone had certain adverse childhood experiences or early traumas (also known as a high ACE Score), they typically are 600% more likely in adulthood to develop chronic exhaustive illness.” What she finds frustrating is that the acute disease model is set up to treat symptoms instead of addressing the root cause. “Years back, when I was in a lot of pain, I was offered anti-depressants, sleep medication and pain medication, but no one asked me what was going on in my life,” Wilkins said. She added that “thankfully the healthcare model is starting to change and many practitioners are realising that they need to start supporting patients biologically, psychologically and socially (known as a bio-psycho-social approach).”

Distinguished physician and author of “When the Body Says No – the Cost of Hidden Stress,’ Gabor Maté, takes this concept even further by exploring how unresolved emotions can manifest as physical discomfort, pain, tension and even debilitating illness. In his book, he provides answers to critical questions about the role emotional makeup and stress play in common diseases such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, cancer and arthritis. “When we have been prevented from learning how to say no, our bodies may end up saying it for us” (Maté, G. 2010).

Maté explains that we often ‘attempt to understand the body in isolation from the mind. We want to describe human beings – healthy or otherwise – as though they function in isolation from the environment in which they develop, live, work, play, love, and die. These are the built-in, hidden biases of the medical orthodoxy that most physicians absorb during their training and carry into their practice” (Maté, G. 2010:4). “The more specialized doctors become, the more they know about a body part or organ and the less they tend to understand the human being in whom that part or organ resides” (Maté, G. 2010).

What strategies could be helpful?

The good news is that there are different strategies and tools available to help us get out of these lingering patterns of survival. One approach that has been gaining traction in both clinical and holistic settings is somatic experiencing. This body-oriented therapy developed by Dr Peter Levine aims to restore a sense of regulation and safety by releasing trauma from the body. This can allow trapped energy to be released and discharged through gentle movement and mindfulness techniques (Levine, A. P. 1997).

In his book, ‘Waking the Tiger – Healing Trauma,’ Levine explains how wild animals rarely get traumatised. He uses this phenomenon to help us treat and understand trauma in humans more effectively (Levine, A. P. 1997). ‘I believe that the key to healing traumatic symptoms in humans lies in our being able to mirror the fluid adaptation of wild animals as they shake out and pass through the immobility response and become fully mobile and functional again’ (Levine, A. P. 1997:18). Wild animals use shaking after escaping a life-threatening or dangerous event as a way to discharge adrenaline and this allows cortisol levels to return to baseline and the nervous system to return to homeostasis (Schwartz, A, 2022).

A practical way of ‘shaking out trauma’ is through using a therapeutic technique, developed by Dr David Berceli, called TRE (Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises) which helps to release lingering trauma in the body and therefore promote healing. Research (Parker et al, 2024) has shown the effectiveness of TRE in treating trauma. TRE or other somatic-based therapies could be done at home or used as a therapeutic modality when working with a therapist.

Lidalize Grobler, an educational psychologist with more than ten years’ experience, reported that she often works with individuals who present with physical symptoms because of stress or trauma. In those cases, she would make use of different forms of somatic practises such as EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing), TRE (Trauma Releasing Exercises), somatic experiencing and BWRT (brain working recursive therapy). According to Grobler, ‘Patients can experience more functionality, find a sense of equilibrium and life can become free again” when trauma has been processed in this way.

Other modalities such as dance therapy, yoga and tai chi could also offer the opportunity to release stored energy and reconnect with the body, as these practices include breath awareness, body-mind connection and mindful movement. Ten weeks of yoga practice seems to be specifically effective at reducing PTSD symptoms for patients who failed to respond to any other treatment or medication (Van der Kolk, B.A et al, 2014). Practising mindfulness also has a positive impact on stress-related, psychosomatic and psychiatric symptoms, including chronic pain and depression (Hofmann, S.G et al. 2010).

According to Bessel van der Kolk (2014), pioneering psychiatrist and author of the best-selling book, ‘The Body Keeps the Score’, many ‘age-old, nonpharmacological approaches’ such as deep breathing, martial arts, drumming and chanting that have been practised for many decades ‘outside Western medicine’ are extremely effective in helping people shift out of fight or flight responses (Van der Kolk, B. A. 2014).

Van der Kolk (2014) also stresses the importance of getting the right support and explains how a good support network truly can be an antidote to and a powerful protection mechanism against trauma. He has found that patients tend to recover best in the context of relationships with others, such as therapists, religious communities, loved ones, families and AA meetings, as this provides them with emotional and physical safety. This includes safety from feeling judged or shamed and this often gives the individual the courage to process and face the reality of what happened (van der Kolk, B.A. 2014).


In conclusion, the impact of trauma on our physical and mental health should be an essential part of healthcare. An integrative approach to healing is key to address the root causes of psychological and physical ailments. Fortunately, many therapeutic modalities and strategies are available to enable individuals to release the lingering effects of trauma and restore a sense of resilience, balance and freedom.

See the published version on the Epoch Times website.


Hoffman, S.G. et al (2010) “The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 78, no.2 (2010): 169–83; J. D.

Levine, P. A. (1997). Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. North Atlantic Books, California.

Mate, G. (2010). When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection. Vintage Canada.

Parker, et al (2024). The Effect of Tension and Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) on Trauma Symptoms in East African Refugees. Psychology. 15. 77-91. 10.4236/psych.2024.151006 – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/377712805_The_Effect_of_Tension_and_Trauma_Releasing_Exercises_TRE_on_Trauma_Symptoms_in_East_African_Refugees

Accessed 6 March 2024.

Schwartz, A (2022). Therapeutic Yoga for Trauma Recovery: Applying the Principles of Polyvagal Theory for Self-Discovery, Embodied Healing, and Meaningful Change. PESI Publishing, USA.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. Penguin Books. New York

Van der Kolk, B.A (2014), et al., “Yoga As an Adjunctive Treatment for PTSD.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 75, no. 6: 559–65.”

Related Blog Posts

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop