The Comfort of Your Own Touch

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Here's a little tool I use a lot in my therapy room. 

It has a very clinical-sounding name: bilateral stimulation. But no need to be intimidated - no electricity, probes or other devices are involved in this endeavor! Just your sweet little hands and your good ol' reliable breath. 🤲 🌬

Bilateral stimulation essentially means that you are stimulating both hemispheres of the brain, just as we do during REM sleep. In doing so, the reptilian brain that powers your fight/flight response becomes disengaged, your whole brain becomes MORE accessible and your worried or fearful thoughts become LESS accessible. The result is often a relaxed feeling - your concerns seem further away and easier to navigate.

Francine Shapiro discovered the potency of this exercise when she herself was going through a difficult time and would take herself to the park. She noticed that if she had upsetting thoughts and she moved her eyes back and forth (to watch the leaves on the trees or the cracks in the sidewalk, for example), her upsetting thoughts would lessen. Further discovery and research led her to develop EMDR, a powerful therapy used to treat PTSD.

Thanks to her discovery, we have this powerful, quick and very accessible tool to help us through challenging SOS moments. Enjoy!

Bilateral Stimulation:

Step one: Cross your wrists and place your hands on the fronts of your shoulders or upper arms, sort of like you are giving yourself a loose hug (and it doesn't matter which arm is on top). As an alternative you may cross your wrists and rest them on your legs.

Step two: Gently but firmly tap your left shoulder with your right hand, and then your right shoulder with your left hand. Continue to alternate this tapping: left to right, left to right, etc. Find a nice comfortable rhythm that you can sustain.

Step three: Once you've gotten a hang of this and no longer have to think about what you're doing, bring your awareness to the parts of your body that are receiving the taps. Here you may want to close your eyes a moment to really tune into the reception of these firm and loving taps. You may also increase the firmness of the tapping in order to help increase your awareness of it.

Step four: Now take some deep breaths (eyes open or closed). See if you can make the length of your inhale match the exhale. You may like to use the tapping as a guide. For example, count how many taps it takes to complete and inhalation and allow your exhalation to end in the same number of taps.

Step five: Release your focus from your breathe and breathe normally. Continue to tap for as long as feels good and then slowly, intentionally, bring it to a close with a nice little hug. ❤️

Adrienne Cress, Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Registered Expressive Arts Therapist

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