Coping with Distress: Hand-over-Heart Technique
Today I want to share one of my favorite techniques for calming distress and anxiety. It’s easy, straightforward, and you can use this tool even when you don’t have a lot of time. I call this the hand-over-heart technique.
I discovered this skill in my early days as a therapist. A mentor at the time had taught me the significance of being attuned to my bodily sensations. One day I noticed that when I felt really anxious, holding my hand over my heart felt soothing and helped to bring my anxiety down a few notches. Later, I read Mindsight by Daniel Siegel (a wonderful book that I highly recommend) and felt validated to learn that this great scientist and clinician uses a version of this technique with his clients (p. 207). Siegel offers the further insight that some people feel more soothed by holding their right hand over their heart, while for others it’s their left. Siegel’s iteration involves placing your free hand on your abdomen. From my experience, this seems to intensify the effect.
I also want to note that as I researched for this blog post, I came across a third version of this technique by Peter Levine (coincidentally, I feature his pendulation technique in the next blog post in this series). In his version, you hold one hand over your heart (either hand) and the other hand over your forehead. Then you focus your attention on how you feel in your body, particularly in the space between the hands. Stay in this position until you feel some kind of shift. Then, move the hand that’s on your forehead to your abdomen, keeping the other hand over your heart. Again, pay attention to how you feel in your body, focusing on the space between your hands. Stay in this position until you feel a shift.
Give the hand-over-heart technique a try and let me know which version you prefer!
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