“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.
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?