By Nkem Ndefo

We all know that too much stress feels bad. As if feeling bad wasn’t enough, it is actually dangerous to our physical and mental health. That’s because stress isn’t just a feeling. When we are stressed, there are significant changes in our neurological, immune, and hormone systems. If the stress is short term and we can return to a relaxed state, no harm done. But when stress is ongoing these biological changes can wreak havoc. From anxiety to frequent colds and even increased the incidence of cardiovascular disease, chronic stress touches every body system. This is no different in pregnancy with stress contributing to spontaneous miscarriage, preterm birth, and low birth weight. And for a developing baby to be bathed in excess stress hormones can mean abnormal neurological development, increased rates of infections, and later mood and behavioral problems.

So what to do? When we are stressed, even stress-reduction can seem like a burden. As a Certified Nurse Midwife and holistic health care practitioner, I am always on the lookout for safe and effective methods that are simple and practical. Several years ago, I came across Tension Release Exercises (TRE®), a self-help method originally developed for high-conflict zones internationally. If they can work under those conditions, certainly they are helpful for routine stress reduction in our daily lives.

TRE® is a series of seven unique exercises that help release deep tension from the body by triggering a natural self-controlled muscular shaking process. These tremors reverberate outward along the spine, releasing tension from the sacrum to the cranium. Over the last 25 years, this easily learned technique has been taught in over 100 countries to a wide variety of populations.  The US Department of Defense has recognized TRE® as a promising modality for regulating stress and promoting resiliency, especially due to its “simplicity, brevity, and immediate effects.”

TRE® had never been studied in pregnancy, but I gathered a group of nurse-midwives and physical therapists to begin researching TRE®’s safety in pregnancy. Preliminary results are very positive. And the use of TRE® in the postpartum period is definitely recommended for reliable stress reduction when time is at a premium. It’s hard to sneak out for a yoga class in between breastfeeding and diaper changes. But taking 10 minutes to let the natural and gentle movements of TRE® literally shake out the stress is completely doable.

So until we’ve completed our research, if you’re pregnant try this simple stress-reduction technique:

Close your eyes and focus inwards. Slowly scan your body from your head to feet searching for what feels the best at this exact moment. When you’ve found it, spend a couple of minutes noticing all you can about this feeling. Where are the boundaries of the feeling? How does it actually feel? Does it shift or change as you focus on it? Then open your eyes and reorient yourself to your current environment.

Want to learn TRE so you can reduce stress during and after pregnancy? Join us for our upcoming workshop, Healing Stress in the Childbearing Year.

Prioritizing stress-reduction rewards us with peaceful relaxation and good health – and that is a gift to mothers and babies alike!

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