Holding Our Emotions in the Belly

By Angie Parris-Raney

When we undergo stress, grief, or any kind of emotional pain, our physical reaction is to hunch over and protect our abdominal region. This is an autonomic nervous system response.
You may have heard about the “fight-or-flight” physiological changes that happen when we feel threatened, including stress hormone production, increased heart rate, and even a change in posture. Likewise, during times of “survival” mode, the body’s natural response is to protect the vital organs. The brain doesn’t know if it’s a saber-tooth tiger breathing down your neck or an uncompromising boss. In that compromised posture, you might be storing these emotions or holding stress in certain parts of the body—which is why you might sometimes have an emotional response during massage.
When having the abdominal region worked on, be particularly aware that this could happen. It’s kind of like the difference between being able to scratch the belly of a dog who is secure, happy, and trusting—and one who isn’t.
Trauma can be stored in muscles as early as infancy. Whether it’s from a traumatic birth, getting shots, being sick, or scrapes and falls, humans store trauma in their muscles throughout their development.
The therapist is there to help you become aware, acknowledge the emotional response, and help you move on from that muscle memory.

A practicing massage therapist for more than 14 years, Angie Parris-Raney is also Body Sense magazine’s advertising manager. Contact her at angie@abmp.com.