The Power of Self-Compassionate Touch

Dear friends,

One of the quickest, most effective, and powerful ways to give ourselves compassion when we’re struggling is through physical touch. Just as we might instinctually reach out to a friend and give them a hug or hold their hand when they’re upset, we can comfort ourselves in a similar way.

A recent study out of the University of California at Berkeley by Serena Chen’s lab showcases the incredible power of self-compassionate touch. The study randomly assigned participants to a self-compassionate touch condition. They were shown a short video demonstrating various types of touch and were asked to choose any method of touch that helped them feel kindness and warmth toward themselves. They were then instructed to do this for 20 seconds daily for one month. Compared to an active control condition (20 seconds of finger tapping), people who gave themselves just a few seconds of supportive touch per day increased overall levels of self-compassion, were less stressed, and were less likely to report negative feelings like being depressed, anxious, or irritated.

When we physically hold our bodies in response to difficult thoughts and emotions, it impacts us in several ways. First, it moves our focus out of our heads into our bodies so that we are not as caught by the storyline of what we’re feeling. This helps us to feel grounded and present. Second, it triggers a sense of care and safety that is built into our nervous system. That’s because we evolved to interpret touch as a signal of care – imagine how an infant is calmed and soothed when held in their parents’ arms. Finally, touch changes our physiology by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing cortisol levels, and increasing levels of feel-good hormones like oxytocin. This helps us to feel calmer and more relaxed.

Even if your mind is racing with fear or you feel overwhelmed, touching yourself in a kind and supportive manner will cut through the mental chatter to provide feelings of compassion directly to your body. It’s always accessible, it’s easy, it’s simple, and it’s free!

I’m including a video here that will guide you through several types of compassionate touch – putting your hands over your heart, cradling your face, folding your arms, holding your shoulders, and other options. People are unique so it’s important that you find the type of touch that works for you.

You can practice self-compassionate touch at the same time each day, such as when you first wake up or go to sleep, or else you can use it whenever you feel distressed in the middle of your day. I hope this practice brings you moments of care and comfort.

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One of the kindest things you can do for another is to give them the gift of self-compassion.

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