“If you’re won­der­ing what things are like for par­ents right now, some­one in my online moms group invit­ed every­one to a Facebook event that is just going to an emp­ty field and scream­ing and a LOT of peo­ple RSVPed yes.”

Lucy Huber, @clhubes

Evidently, there is a group of women who meet in a field and scream curse words occa­sion­al­ly and I have nev­er felt so seen. Who hasn’t want­ed to shake their fist at the sky in the last few years? Screaming exple­tives seems like a com­plete­ly nor­mal response to being alive these days.

Turns out, it’s also a healthy cop­ing mech­a­nism. To explain, I need to tell you about my dog.

Barkley is a sweet, fuzzy 22-pound cock­apoo that loves bacon-fla­vored treats, soft blan­kets, and me. He hates thun­der, fire­works, and the Roomba. If you even open the clos­et door where the vac­u­um clean­er lives, he runs under the couch and trem­bles. I asked our vet if CBD gum­mies might help with his nerves. The vet explained that the shak­ing isn’t some­thing to fix. It is actu­al­ly both a symp­tom and the treat­ment for his over­worked ner­vous system. 

Photo by Gage Walker on Unsplash
Photo by Gage Walker on Unsplash

We see this every­where in the ani­mal king­dom. When ani­mals get scared, huge amounts of stress hor­mones are released into their blood­stream to help them fight, run from, hide from, or some­how over­come the per­ceived dan­ger. This is the fight-or-flight stress response kick­ing in. This shak­ing, known as neu­ro­genic tremor­ing, slows activ­i­ty in the HPA axis, the com­plex neu­roen­docrine sys­tem that reg­u­lates stress. 

In his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gist Robert Sapolsky writes about the ani­mal impulse to shake as a nat­ur­al way of quick­ly absorb­ing those stress hor­mones. Barkley’s shak­ing is a somat­ic response to fear, a sig­nal from his lim­bic (emo­tion­al) brain that the threat has passed and his fight-or-flight sys­tem can safe­ly turn off. He is lit­er­al­ly releas­ing adren­a­line and cor­ti­sol as he trem­bles. Animals can actu­al­ly die if they are unable to shake off the trau­ma. The shak­ing calms his ner­vous sys­tem and brings him back to home­osta­sis. Back to liv­ing in the moment. 

Humans are just ani­mals that wear clothes. Yet we have nor­mal­ized sup­press­ing cer­tain emo­tions that soci­ety deems unac­cept­able. Cultural mes­sag­ing tells us that anger, grief, fear, and dis­com­fort are to be avoid­ed at all costs, even though they are com­plete­ly nat­ur­al emo­tions. We are con­stant­ly encour­aged to keep a stiff upper lip or swal­low our neg­a­tive feel­ings in the ser­vice of stay­ing pos­i­tive. And these emo­tions are even less accept­able in women, who’ve been con­di­tioned to be polite, kind, and – above all else – qui­et. Remember how I said that ani­mals often die if they don’t suc­cess­ful­ly shake off the stress? In humans, sup­press­ing the shake shows up as a phys­i­cal or men­tal illness.

So scream­ing in a field seems like a per­fect­ly rea­son­able cop­ing mech­a­nism right now for the trau­ma of being alive. My friend Erin reminds me that trau­ma is less about the event and more about our indi­vid­ual response to that event. Shaking our bod­ies won’t pre­vent bad things from hap­pen­ing, but it might be a real­ly healthy way to process those things when they do occur. 

I’ve got a field and I know a lot of great curse words. Who’s in?

  • Erin Skinner Smith

    Erin Skinner Smith wants every­one to slow down, eat real food, move their bod­ies, go out­side, and hit the pil­low a lit­tle ear­li­er for a more pur­pose­ful exis­tence. She is a pub­lished writer, yoga teacher, and mind­ful­ness coach. When she’s not stand­ing on her head or typ­ing on her trusty lap­top, you’ll find her read­ing, play­ing gui­tar, enjoy­ing a glass of bour­bon, or snug­gling on the couch with her peo­ple and pets. Send her a dig­i­tal high five at erintheomplace.net.