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Is screaming a good stress reliever

A woman triumphantly screams after a bike ride in the outdoors

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Experts say primal screaming can help relieve stress if done in a helpful way. Westend61/Getty Images

  • Groups of mothers in Massachusetts and New Jersey have organized scream therapy groups to help relieve the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Experts say scream therapy can help reduce tension, frustration, and anger.
  • However, experts note that scream therapy is not a long-term solution for mental health issues.

Many parents are tired, frustrated, and just plain angry at the COVID-19 pandemic after 2 years of being stuck isolated with restless children.

The restrictions, the masks, and the testing are enough to make you want to scream.

So, some parents are. And it feels good.

At least two groups of mothers in Massachusetts and New Jersey have gathered to “scream away” their frustrations in empty parking lots and open fields.

They swear it helps, and scientists might not disagree.

“The scream is a natural and intuitive way for your body to release emotion, i.e., anger/rage. It takes your sympathetic nervous system to the extreme and really there’s no other place to go ‘down’ from there but into a relaxation response,” Sarah Harmon, a Massachusetts licensed therapist and founder of The School of MOM, told Healthline.

Harmon said she’s the founder of the “primal mom scream,” which gathered mothers during the pandemic’s first year and led them in hair-raising screaming.

Harmon said the sessions allowed the mothers to vent pent-up pandemic rage and to bond with each other when bonding with strangers was discouraged.

“Another healing part of the scream is the community component,” Harmon said. “It’s so affirming and healing to be in a shared emotion — especially a taboo one like anger — with others who have been going through what you have, and to be given full permission to feel and express what you’re feeling.”

The theory behind screaming

Primal scream therapy took off in the early 1970s, with celebrities such as musician John Lennon and actor James Earl Jones becoming big proponents.

The therapy was based on “The Primal Scream,” a book by Arthur Janov, a U.S. psychotherapist who argued that neurosis is caused by the repressed pain of childhood trauma. He said pain could be released through a basic experience and reaction to the emotions: screaming.

“The basic premise behind scream therapy is the release of endorphins, a chemical released by the body which reduces stress,” said Evona L. Smith, a family nurse practitioner and doctor of nursing in Louisiana who has written books meant to help children deal with the pandemic.

“Simply put, endorphins interact with receptors in the brain that produces a positive feeling in the body,” Smith told Healthline. “Although scream therapy can trigger the release of endorphins and, in turn, reduce stress, there are less strenuous ways to deal with stress during the pandemic.”

The group in New Jersey was organized by Jessica Kline, the publisher of Macaroni KID Clifton-Montclair.

Kline told CBS News she’s often felt overwhelmed and isolated. When the pandemic started, she had three children under the age of 6 at home.

“My house felt narrow; I felt like the walls were caving in on me,” she said. “And I just felt like there was no place to go.”

“I had a 6-month-old on my hip, I had a 4-year-old, and a 6-year-old who was in kindergarten, so nobody was in school,” Kline added. “And keeping them entertained throughout the day, while changing diapers and nursing, was insane.”

Pandemic parenting

A Pew Research study from October 2020 reported that 27 percent of U.S. mothers with children younger than age 18 felt the best arrangement for them would be not to work for pay at all. That was up from 19 percent the year before.

The share of mothers who said it was best for them to work full time dropped from 51 percent to 44 percent during that span.

“I believe American/Western culture has significantly underestimated the effect of the pandemic on people,” Alexandra Cromer, a licensed counselor with Thriveworks in Richmond, Virginia, told Healthline.

“The culture has shifted to view the pandemic as normal and there’s a very consistent push in society for things to return back to normal,” she explained. “But things are not normal and people are being forced to operate, continue to work, live, etc., under that false paradigm. That creates some cognitive dissonance, which can directly elevate levels of stress.”

“If we are forced to return to in-person work, for example, and are told that it’s ‘safe and fine’ even when we don’t believe it is, that’s going to trigger the fight-or-flight response in the body,” Cromer added.

The limits to scream therapy

The restrictive circumstances can make people want to scream.

However, that might not be the best idea for long-term therapy, Cromer noted.

“Long-term triggering of the sympathetic nervous system can cause serious long-term health complications including but not limited to high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, high cholesterol, and insomnia,” she said. “There is not evidence that supports this as therapy, and thus we should be careful to view it as something that can be therapeutic but in and of itself is not considered healing or part of therapy.”

Alyssa Scolari, a licensed counselor in New Jersey, told Healthline there are certainly short-term benefits to scream therapy, but eventually, people will need to turn to more sustainable methods of dealing with their COVID-19 stress.

“Screaming your frustrations does help. Think of the old saying, ‘Better out than in,’” Scolari said. “This pandemic has brought on years of frustration and isolation, so taking some time to scream about it can be really satisfying, whether you’re screaming into your pillow or venting with a group of friends.

“That being said, screaming on a regular basis can certainly be rough on the throat and there are other ways to vent your frustrations,” she added. “Some really fun, anger-releasing activities can include going to an axe-throwing facility, visiting an ‘angry room,’ where you can pay to break dishes and glasses, or taking up an activity like boxing or jiujitsu”.

Scolari said the most important thing is to maintain human connection.

“Create regular virtual meetups with your friends and family to avoid becoming withdrawn and isolated,” she said. “Other ways to cope with COVID-19 demons include making time to get outside and absorb some vitamin D, taking intentional detoxes from your phone/technology, keeping your work-from-home space separate from the rest of your home, and trying to process your frustrations through journaling or talking to a therapist.”

Whether it’s from stubbing your baby toe on a piece of furniture or pure frustration from your laptop freezing for the umpteenth time, we’ve all felt it—that deep burning desire to open your mouth and let out a long, bellowing scream.

Unfortunately, societal norms ask us to swallow our verbal frustrations and maintain composure. You might get some funny looks from strangers if you yell every time something doesn’t go your way.

However, there’s something seriously satisfying about shouting at the top of your lungs. Not only is it satisfying, but science has shown that screaming is good for you and your well-being.

Dont’ believe me? Before you start shouting at me in angry disbelief, have a look at these five facts on why shouting will do you good.

What is Primal Scream Therapy?

You may have heard of psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioural therapy – but have you heard of primal scream therapy? Kanye West is among those who have praised primal scream therapy – a somewhat controversial treatment.

Primal scream therapy is what you might think – it involves standing in a warrior pose and screaming as loud as you possibly can. Scream therapy gives the patient a way to release anger and frustration or take the edge off of building feelings of anxiety.

“This modality of therapy is about connecting with the [negative] emotion, feeling it, and releasing it via screaming, sobbing, or even hitting a safe object such as a punching bag,” says psychotherapist Gin Love Thompson in an interview with SHAPE Magazine. “The physical vibratory sensations alert the nervous system and subconscious that this discharge is a conscious choice of absolution.”

Before you cancel your next therapist appointment in exchange for a screaming sesh at home, keep in mind that experts don’t recommend unsupervised scream therapy. You’ll need an experienced psychologist to guide you through a holistic treatment plan to get those anxiety-busting benefits from this primal scream therapy tactic.

Shouting is an ancient form of Chinese medicine

It’s not just hip-hop stars and psychologists who claim shouting is good for you. Ancient Chinese wisdom also says that letting out a loud yell is beneficial to your health.

Every morning, Mrs He, a 60-year-old woman from Hangzhou, and her friends climb to the top of a hill and let out some loud shouts before starting their daily exercise regime. She told CNN, “Chinese people have passed on the practice from generation to generation as a part of traditional medicine. My parents taught me. It’s a part of our folk culture.”

As well as being a bit of fun, there’s a reason for her morning routine. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TMC) focuses on the energy and rhythms of specific areas — and organs — of the body. It believes that yelling is good exercise for your lungs and liver.

According to Dr Nan Lu, a master herbalist and Qigong master, the energy that feeds the liver’s well-being needs to flow, but it can get obstructed by frustration. The remedy? Shake like a noisy tree. To do the Tree Shake, stand nice and tall, then swoop your body down toward the floor and come up swinging like a tree in the wind. As you shake, reach your fingertips toward the sky, gather up all your frustration and release it with a whopping scream.

It might be a good idea to let your neighbours know you’ll be making some noise shaking like a tree, so they don’t think you’re barking mad.

Shouting Can Relieve Stress (But Stress Out Others)

If you’ve ever shouted at someone, you’ll know that vocalising your internal tension can be a powerful, therapeutic verbal release. That burning desire you have to scream when you’re angry is natural – and stifling that impulse isn’t very healthy.

While it might feel great to you, keep in mind that your scream could have negative effects on the people who hear it. Laboratory research has shown that the rough sounds of human screams activate fear responses deep in the minds of people who listen to them. If you’ve ever heard screaming coming from the distance for an unknown reason, you’ll know how scary it is.

So instead of screaming your lungs out and having someone call the police, try screaming into a pillow. Or better yet, let in out into The Scream Box. This hand-held box has a foam that absorbs sound waves and reduces the noise by 90%.

Shouting Can Increase Your Strength

If you hate the sound of bodybuilders grunting loudly at the gym, there may be more to their noise than attracting hot girls’ attention. According to research, a quick yell or grunt before an exercise can increase your strength.

Researchers from Iowa State University measured the handgrip strength of martial artists using and not using the kiap or “battle cry”. The technique involves the short shout made when performing an attacking move. The study found that the participants’ handgrip strength increased by about 7% when they did a kiap compared to when they didn’t.

Similar studies found that grunting from tennis players helped them maintain strong and put more force behind their shot. Forcefully expelling air in the form of a quick yell or grunt may help stabilise your core and have the same effect on force production and strength.

It may be unconventional, but you might want to try grunting like a beast if you’re trying to beat your personal best at the gym.

Shouting Is Just Plain Fun

Have you ever screamed as loud as you can underwater? Or shouted from the top of a mountain, banging your chest King Kong style? If you have, you’ll know how bloody fantastic it feels.

Besides having a cathartic effect, shouting feels really good. When we shout, our body releases “feel good” chemicals that we all crave.

Dr Peter Calafiura, an American psychiatrist, says, “Yelling might trigger some endorphins, a natural high. They might feel calm, and it might even be a little addictive. It’s really similar to a runner’s high. They’re getting the same effect in a different way.”

So next time you feel the urge to let out a scream, head to the mountains or grab your pillow, and let it out. It’ll do you more good to vocalise that built-up tension than to keep it stifled up inside.

As Shrek wisely said, better out than in.

Whether it is scream therapy or simply screaming, we believe it can be good for your mental health. Happy screaming!