Prior to the jolting predicament of last year, many people were already struggling with stress and/or anxiety. (R, R) Unfortunately, current events have led to even more negative exacerbations from everyday stressors, feelings of overwhelm, and an increase in psychological problems. (R, R, R, R, R,R) Sadly, people’s natural instinct to relieve the impact of these burdens, human contact, has also been restricted. Without effective interventions to address the mental health of our society, these effects coupled with isolation and separation, will have very detrimental, long-term implications.
In previous articles, I’ve explored how naturopathic doctors can help to fill this gap in holistic mental and brain health support. Since I specialize in mood and emotional balance in my practice, I have some experience with what has been most impactful for my clients. Throughout the past months, I have shared about these various safe, effective naturopathic resources to help tame the brain and soothe the mind-body. A summary of some of the highlights are listed and updated at the bottom of all my latest naturopathic blogs.
One of my favorite tools are essential oils. This is due to their ability to modulate neurotransmitter biochemistry, brain electrical signaling patterns, and psychological responses. Some other techniques I often incorporate are Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), mindfulness and meditation, deep breathing, and various other self-care practices.
Recently, I learned about another modality developed to deal with trauma and anxiety which I do not have experience with. It is called the Havening Technique. It uses a specific sequence that combines kinesthetics (touch and movement) and distraction processes to bring forth and release triggering emotional and traumatizing experiences.
I’d like to share what I learned with you about this method and an overview of the research articles that I explored regarding it. First, I will start with how touch impacts the brain. In a follow-up post, I’ll review in more detail the mechanisms and applications of the Havening Technique.
Touch on the Brain
Studies have stated that our brains are hard-wired to interpret and decode touch. Through a range of mechanoreceptors and neural pathways, tactile stimulation has proven to be a cognitive processing phenomenon. Where exactly in the brain this occurs is still being explored, but it has been linked to emotional processing areas and may also be based on stage of development and even gender. In fact, some research has demonstrated that individual differences in perception and decoding touch may be linked to neurological and psychological disorders. (R, R, R, R, R)
Most people are intuitively aware that comforting and welcome touch can be relaxing and even refreshing. Furthermore, there are various research articles on the benefits of massage. (R, R) For example, one small trial demonstrated that the touch from chair massage could impact cognition and mood.
In the study, researchers sought to compare the impact of massage via changes in an EEG (electroencephalogram- a test that detects electrical activity in the brain) on patterns of alertness and math computations in subjects versus controls. Twenty-six participants received a chair massage, and twenty-four controls were asked to relax in a massage chair twice weekly for five weeks. Math computations were completed pre- and post-treatment along with depression and anxiety scores. Cortisol levels were also measured. The abstract reads:
1) frontal delta power increased for both groups, suggesting relaxation; 2) the massage group showed decreased frontal alpha and beta power (suggesting enhanced alertness); while the control group showed increased alpha and beta power; 3) the massage group showed increased speed and accuracy on math computations while the control group did not change; 4) anxiety levels were lower following the massage but not the control sessions, although mood state was less depressed following both the massage and control sessions; 5) salivary cortisol levels were lower following the massage but not the control sessions but only on the first day; and 6) at the end of the 5 week period depression scores were lower for both groups but job stress score were lower only for the massage group. (R)
To summarize how the brain interacts with touch perception, the author of a 2014 article states:
From what can be seen so far, touch impacts many parts of the brain and multiple functions. Our thinking, feeling, sensory and motor systems are all affected by touch as well as parts of the brain involved in learning new movements. (R)
Using Touch to Process Painful, Triggering Emotional Events
As of yet, science has not elucidated the exact mechanism on how touch can impact emotions and mental health through a specific brain region or pathway. Perhaps this is due to individual variations in perception and cognitive processing patterns. Interesting, though controversial in application, the Havening Technique does offer a specific theory on this connection.
Specifically, it is believed that touch stimulates the brain to produce serotonin and delta waves. This results in calming the mind-body and displacing the fear response to the triggering stimuli. (R) The creation of these delta waves, which are brain patterns associated with a calm state, and change in neurotransmitter signaling patterns, leads to the “unraveling” of the emotional response to the initial triggering event.
In a follow-up article, I will dive deeper into these mechanisms and application of this technique. I will also provide my feedback and impression on if this approach is worth a try with your qualified mental health provider.
Mental Health Resources
*If you are experiencing a mental health crisis and/or are suicidal, please seek professional mental health support:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) — Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor
- Lifeline Crisis Chat — Chat online with a specialist who can provide emotional support, crisis intervention and suicide prevention services at www.crisischat.org
Other Helpful Resources
Below are some of the highlights of the many free resources on this website:
- Four Essential Oils Blends for Supporting the Mind-Body and Easing Tension
- VIDEO: How Your Brain and Body Suffer with Too Much Stress & Naturopathic Medicine Tips for Calming the Mind and Relieving Overwhelm
- Video Recap: Essential Oils to Ease the Stress & Anxiety of Back to School
- The Importance of Fun, Music, & Play for Mental Health
- Video Recap: Essential Oils for Brain and Mental Health & Soothing Stress
- 10 Natural Ways to Relieve Stress and Calm the Mind-Body During Trying Times
- Video: A Naturopathic Doctor’s Approach to Thyroid Health Using Essential Oils: Video Recap & Additional Resources
Additional Supportive Techniques & Tools
- The Tapping Solution, A Technique to Lower Cortisol and Reduce Stress- Podcast interview by Dr. Kara Fitzgerald with Nick Ortner.
- Stress management tips and resources
Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
According to experts and the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no approved standard of care treatment, cure, or preventative for COVID-19. Supportive measures and containment are in full force as a result. Please see the CDC website and your state’s website for more information and updates. They also state when to contact your physician related to symptoms and travel history, exposures. Please read my more detailed article on this subject here.
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.