Shake It Off: How to shift when you're stressed

movement stress stress cycle Feb 16, 2024
father in a baseball cap and toddler girl with auburn hair carelessly dancing in a field of long, green grass on cover art for Family in Focus with Wendy Schofer, MD podcast episode #109, entitled

Do you ever get those times where you just hit a wall and can't think anymore? Or you're tired of the same old food fights? Or you see your kids getting to the end of their rope during homework, or perhaps while siblings are needing a little change of scenery during a heated "discussion"?

I had a recent conversation with a stressed child of mine and we spoke about the ability to "Shake it off" - ah, how I love Taylor Swift  -- and I wanted to share a bit here.

Shaking it off

What it means: literally, moving your body AND changing your physiology. When the body gets stressed, the brain tends to focus. Remember the stress cycle: we will tend to fight, flight, freeze -- that's all ways of focusing on survival.

Whether the emotion came first - or the physiology that then ramps up the stress (ever feel more stressed when your heart is already beating, palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy (ok, name that tune)) -- no matter which came first, the cycle has started and the body wants to escape the discomfort to live to see another day.

All of a sudden, you realize it's on: the stress cycle. We tend to fight (take lots of action to get out of this, work hard, restlessness and agitation), flight (avoid, want to numb/comfort), freeze (check out and go blank).

We see the actions - the further agitation, crankiness, turning to food or electronics to feel better, and lack of task-focus (because the only focus is survival, not writing the 10 page paper, or in my case at work, getting overwhelmed by the amount of clinical work and then not being able to focus on the one patient right in front of me).

Not being able to see the forest through the trees is a great analogy for the overwhelm of emotions - because we are not seeing the whole picture when we're just focused on one part: survival.

What can you do in the moment?

Disrupt the physiology. Shake it off.

What do you do when your phone's acting wonky, or your computer is lagging? Go to any IT expert and the first thing they tell you is to "Turn it off and back on again." It's a reset. Movement - shaking it off - is the body's way of resetting. You see, in today's modern society, so many of the stressors that we have aren't saber toothed tigers, but threats between our own ears: expectations, deadlines, to-do lists, relationships and communication. We try to think our way through it and we have more struggles: because our brains are over it.

We need a reset.

Shaking it off has been used in cognitive therapies and hypnosis for a long time. Simply moving - shaking the arms, legs, getting up and moving around a bit - helps the individual disrupt the mental pattern that they were just in. It's another way of changing the physiology, just like taking a deep breath and letting it out twice as slowly as you took it in. The breath work activates the parasympathetic nervous system, shaking body movement activates the sympathetic nervous system: moving.

Why does activating the SNS work when you're already stressed? Because it's a way of discharging the stressful energy. "Back in the day" when a saber toothed tiger was the source of your stress, your physiology would get activated with stress hormones, faster heart rate and tense muscles, ready to boogie out of there as fast as you can: stress hormones were part of the fuel to escape and RUN to see another day. Today, we can utilize those hormones that are pumping and shake it off.

What does that look like?

It could be as simple as truly getting up and moving, shaking the sillies out, pumping legs, taking the stairs, air squats, insta-dance-party (bring in the Taylor Swift and Eminem references!). In my focus sessions, I'll invite participants to "Shake it off" when we switch from one focus to the next -- it's a reset, clearing house of the patterns we had been making and making space for new ones. Ah, it's like shaking an Etch a Sketch: resetting and readying for the next creation.

Where can you use a moment to Shake It Off? Think about it now. Where would you love to hit a reset button in your day? Shake! Where are you feeling emotions that are perhaps keeping you from doing what you want to do? Shake! Where could your kids channel their energy towards using their bodies and get it out of their systems? Shake!

Shaking it off has a very important role: it's bringing the body-online. It's letting the body communicate with the brain. They are not two separate systems (body and brain). But how often do you find yourself in a thinking-dominated space and your even fidgety?

Invite some movement, some "Shaking it off" and see what happens. I'd love to hear what your experience.

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Much love,




YouTube version of Episode #109 here.

Calling all Healthcare Professionals: I'm so glad you're here, to benefit yourself, your family, and your patients. The CE experience for this Podcast is powered by CMEfy - click here to reflect and earn credits:

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And when you're ready to start applying this in your own home, check out for more information about how the Family in Focus program can help you and your family create lifelong healthy relationships with food and body, now and at every weight.

Disclaimer: While Wendy Schofer, MD discusses health and wellness, this is not medical advice and she is not your doctor. Optimal health is achieved in combination with your physician, who collaborates with you for your individual health. Talk to your doctor. And tell them about Family in Focus. Mwah!


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