Ever picked up a crying baby? Ever instinctively started to rock, pat or bounce the baby as a way to soothe? If you have, you may not have known it, but you were using scientifically proven, developmentally sensitive techniques to soothe, comfort and calm the child and maybe even yourself.
Dr. Bruce Perry is a leading researcher in the impact of trauma on a child’s development and how movement can be used as a resource for calming, coping and improved development. Dr. Perry’s research is based on the idea that the body and brain function and regulate to a repetitive rhythmic beat: our heart beats at a rhythm, and our blood pulses through our body at the rhythm. Based on this idea, Dr. Perry demonstrated that using a repetitive movement can help a person to regulate and calm themselves. Repetitive movements such as walking, rocking, stretching, yoga, coloring, passing a ball back and forth, rowing, etc. can be used to help someone calm themselves at a moment of heightened emotions.
At Genesis, we use this research to educate, inform and support our clients in overcoming the impact of trauma on their daily lives. We know that anxiety, panic attacks, restlessness, heightened arousal, etc. are all normal responses to the trauma of living in fear due to domestic violence. Often, we hear our clients discuss struggling with body sensations of discomfort, struggling to relax or struggling with anxiety. Additionally, our moms report that their children struggle to sit still and focus at school. To help with this, we teach our clients about the brain and the impact of trauma on the Amygdala. We teach our child clients about their “downstairs” brain that can get overactive and cause them to feel anxious and lose focus. Then, we practice movement as a way to regulate or calm, and we guide clients in movement exercises and games that use movement. We even consider our office designs and furniture to ensure that movement is a part of all of our sessions. For example, counselors have rocking chairs in their offices to encourage clients to move, and we have a Sensory Room available for individual and group sessions that has toys, tools and chairs available for movement and sensory-based calming techniques.
You can use this simple, but effective, technique for yourself. First, consider what form of movement would work best for you. Walking around the block, rocking in a chair or even simply swaying back and forth can be effective. Yoga can also be a great way to use movement for regulation and calming. Decide which type of movement is best for your body and your mobility needs, and integrate this movement for at least seven minute increments daily. The more times you can move for at least seven minutes, the better. And for even better results, consider adding music. Dr. Perry explains that an average mother’s resting heart beat is 90 beats per minute. This means that in utero, during pregnancy and into infanthood your mother’s heart beat was a soothing and regulating rhythm. Because of this, listening to music that is around 90 beats per minute can result in regulation and calming. You can look up songs that are 90 beats per minute online, or you can simply turn to Mozart, who composed many waltzes and these songs are typically close to 90 beats per minute. Using movement daily can help to keep the brain calm and regulated, but it is also a very effective coping skill. If you experience a moment of heightened emotions, moving and listening to music can be a very effective way of taking care of yourself through the feelings.
Written by Jordyn Lawson, senior director of residential services.