The Simplest Anxiety-Soothing Technique You’ve Never Heard Of

Havening - The Simplest Anxiety-Soothing Technique You’ve Never Heard Of

When anxiety, fear, or panic attacks arise, it can feel like you’ve been swept up in an emotional riptide. But you don’t have to let daily stressors hijack your emotions. With a very simple strategy—so easy even children can do it—you can calm yourself and wash away anxiousness. What is this soothing technique? It’s called havening, and you can do it anywhere, anytime.

“Havening is a technique that uses touch to create delta waves in the brain,” explains Sandlin Lowe, M.D., a neuropsychiatrist and former neurosurgeon who specializes in integrative psychiatry to enhance brain health at Amen Clinics. Certain surfaces of our skin—such as the palms of our hands—have special nerve endings called Pacinian corpuscles, and if you put pressure on them, they generate delta waves. These calming brainwaves, which typically occur during sleep, can help soothe anxious feelings.

HOW DO DELTA WAVES CALM ANXIETY?

Havening, which was developed by Ronald Ruden, M.D., an internist with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry, generates delta waves that have a positive effect on regions of the brain that are involved in creating emotionally charged memories and trauma. One of these brain regions is the amygdala, which plays a major role in recording the emotions of our experiences. When it comes to traumatic experiences, the amygdala encodes emotions in a different way, and they become what neuroscientists call “potentiated.” This means they get hard-wired into your brain where they stick like super glue.

“That’s why you can close your eyes and within moments feel like you’re back in a traumatic moment,” says Dr. Lowe, who sees patients for havening appointments at Amen Clinics (via Zoom or in-person at the Amen Clinics New York location). “It’s Mother Nature reminding us not to do that again.”

Emotional trauma is usually related to an experience or event that is either unpredictable and/or inescapable. With the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Lowe says, “You could argue that we’re all being emotionally traumatized each and every day from what’s going on.”

3 TYPES OF HAVENING TOUCH

Dr. Lowe, who uses this unique therapy with many of his patients, says the most common havening touch techniques include the following:

  • Rub the palms of your hands together. Rub your hands together slowly as if you’re washing your hands.
  • Give yourself a hug. Place the palms of your hands on your opposite shoulders and rub them down your arms to your elbows.
  • “Wash” your face. Place your fingertips up high on your forehead just within your hairline and then let your fingers fall down your face to your chin. Note: This technique is not recommended during the coronavirus pandemic when health officials say it is not advisable to touch your face.

3 COMMON FORMS OF HAVENING

There are many forms of havening, but 3 of the most common are called transpirational, affirmational, and event havening.

Transpirational Havening

If you feel anxiety from the day’s events, distressing news, or a desperate situation, transpirational havening can help. While you use one of the 3 touch techniques described above, talk about what you’re feeling. For example, as you stroke your arms in a downward motion, you may say something like, “I’m feeling so worried about our finances, and I’m feeling helpless.” As the touch produces delta brainwaves, the special nerve endings send signals to the amygdala that make it feel safe and secure. This helps take away the anxiety-producing effects of the words you are saying.

During the pandemic, this can be very effective for frontline healthcare workers who have gone through a difficult experience with COVID-19 patients and are having trouble coping. After a particularly stressful or sad shift, a frontline worker might do self-havening and talk about what they’re feeling. “There were so many sick people on my shift, and I’m so scared of getting the virus and infecting my family. I didn’t’ sign up for this and it isn’t fair.” While talking about these feelings, the emotions are being neutralized by the delta waves to help restore calm.

Affirmational Havening

Saying positive affirmations while practicing one of the havening touch techniques can be very powerful. This is due to the fact that havening mimics the sleep stage when your brain incorporates the memories of the day. Because of this, saying affirmations while havening puts those positive thoughts into the brain’s memory centers—the hippocampus involved in declarative memory and in the dorsolateral striatum and ventral striatum involved in operational and procedural memory.

“This is like taking the power of positive thinking and exponentially supercharging it,” says Dr. Lowe. “Not only are you loading up your brain with wonderful, powerful affirmations, but you’re also putting them into procedural/operational memory. so you can operationalize these powerful positive aspirational thoughts.”

This can be very effective at resetting your anxiety levels. For example, during the day if you get anxious or frightened, think “safe, peaceful, calm” while you rub your hands or arms. This will help defuse your brain’s fear centers and promote soothing.

Event Havening

This form of havening is often used for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It has been found to help eliminate the intrusive thoughts, nightmares, and flashbacks associated with PTSD. Note that this form of havening is best done with a trained therapist

More from Dr. Sandlin Lowe on Havening:


What is Havening, and How Can it Help with Anxiety? with Dr. Sandlin Lowe and Donna Lalwani

Anxiety, depression, PTSD, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.

6 Comments

  1. I am a mental health therapist seeing 30 plus patients per week in my job as part of a large behavioral health department embedded in a large medical organization. Increasingly, I am seeing more and more deeply traumatized patients. At times it is difficult to find simple and effective interventions.

    Currently, I am on a quiet vacation to unwind and recharge from the impacts of the intense work I do.
    This video on Havening was a God send and I need to learn more about it. I am so strongly invested in learning more about the neuroscience of trauma and how to practically intervene with my patients, many of whom would not have the time, patience, or resources to seek out EMDR, for example. I believe I have stumbled onto some of the “Havening” techniques without knowing what I was doing in my own self soothing practices. This makes so much sense! So needed in these chaotic and fearful times. Thank you.

    Comment by Dianne Herivel — August 18, 2020 @ 1:26 PM

  2. As a counseling psychologist with a behavioral orientation, l found these to be wonderfully practical methods for providing both operant and respondent extinction to traumatic stimuli.
    Thanks for the examples.

    Comment by Chris — August 18, 2020 @ 8:57 PM

  3. As a psychologist with 29 years of experience and a certified Havening practitioner, I have seen the incredibly positive effects of Havening. I also treat ADHD and have read Dr. Amen’s book on ADHD types. I also recently wrote an article on Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria, apparently almost ubiquitous among those who have ADHD. I would welcome having a conversation about using Havening with ADHD clients with someone from your clinic. My wife, a life coach, also uses Havening in her work and has seen outstanding results. Best Regrads, Gregory Moore, Psy.D. NJ licensed psychologist #2833

    Comment by Gregory H Moore — August 24, 2020 @ 5:15 AM

  4. Hello Gregory, thank you for reaching out. We’d be happy to contact you and put you in touch with our Clinic Outreach Manager at Amen Clinics New York who can discuss more with you on havening.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — August 26, 2020 @ 12:55 PM

  5. I’m a retired Physical Therapist after 4 yrs post parathyroidectomy I finally feel in control .brain fog almost gone joint pains lessened and apathy disappeared ..labs near normal only lasting effect is stage 3 kidney disease
    . ..besides learning all I could about hyperparathyroidism while recovering and even now I felt the need to also wrap myself or wear tight fitting clothing or sleep / rest under weighted blankets .. a technic I’ve used with high anxiety children during PT treatments… this might help others

    Comment by JEANETTE — August 29, 2020 @ 5:29 AM

  6. Great article that quickly demonstrates the awesome power of Havening!
    As a certified Havening practitioner myself I can attest to how well this works for a whole manner of concerns, from trauma and depression to phobias and anger.

    Comment by Paul Emery — August 31, 2020 @ 8:47 PM

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