@Publisher I’m an embodied trauma therapist and I get the ‘does exercise help?’ question a lot.
IMO, it is MOVEMENT that helps, not exercise. As humans, we have evolved to move in a variety of three dimensional and unpredictable ways. We also develop various movement patterns organically as we grow from babyhood (crawling, getting up and down from the floor). As modern adults, we use few of these, even those who are very fit. This limits our range of experiences in the body: it is only when we feel and embody something that it can then become real for us. Exercise also places another demand or stress onto already stressed people; movement is a way of managing that demand.
I encourage my clients to find movement that works for them, and much of this depends on their trauma and how it is manifesting (fight, flight, fake, fawn, fix, freeze, flop). For example, sexual assault survivors often respond well to boxing and martial arts, as this embodies the fight response which they so desperately wanted to use when under attack but were unable to. It gives them a feeling of power, and also releases anger and associated chemicals in a helpful way.
Those with ‘flight’ tendencies often enjoy running as it removes the adrenaline that drives the constant busy-ness. The downside is that ‘flight’ types are often controlling ‘fixers’ too, so running can become an obsession, which adds more stress to their lives. Those with the freeze tendency (such as ML’s D above who simply couldn’t make that phone call) respond well to very gentle, soft movements that allow the nervous system and muscles to gently unwind: yoga, Feldenkrais, Tai Chi, walking.
People who grow up in chaos (no food on the table, unreliable parents who not there for them, warzones, ill siblings… ), crave structure. It makes them feel safe. Movement with rules helps: hatha yoga, martial arts, weight lifting. Those who grow up in overly controlled environments need freedom: conscious dance, jogging, hiking.
As social beings, community is an important part of stress management and health. It is why every mental health narrative is about ‘talking to someone’ or ‘asking for help’. When you combine movement with community, this is uber powerful! Hence the popularity of running clubs, yoga classes, my dad’s ‘rambling group’ back in England (rambling is slow hiking), cross fit boxes etc. Kelly McGonigal, Stanford professor, has a book and a number of podcasts about the power of group movement.
Finally, movement does not replace medication and talking therapy. Talk therapy is needed to make meaning from our experiences and to integrate them. Medication can also be needed to help regulate the body/mind/nervous system, so the individual is in a place to respond to other interventions. Baseline self care is also non negotiable: safety/security, diet, sleep, being outside in nature, group/social support, finding a sense of meaning/purpose.