The Psychological Tool That Looks A Little Odd, But Can Stop Anxiety & Panic Immediately

A low-risk therapy technique that could help you address issues of anxiety and trauma that you can do entirely on your own.

A woman outdoors practicing a Havening technique Pascal Lottenbach via Canva | Milko via Canva  —

‍If you've ever struggled with panic attack or felt overwhelmed by stress, it can feel pretty scary— especially if you are in public, at work, or in a social setting. While there's no shame in feeling whatever you are feeling, you don't always know how those around you will react.  As your mind races, you may try to think of what you can do in that moment to help yourself without it becoming a scene.


How the Havening Technique works

Havening is a unique therapy technique that aims to address issues of anxiety and trauma, developed by Dr. Steven Ruden and Dr. Ronald Ruden. The twin brothers both initially focused on different areas of medicine before focusing on neuroscience and brain techniques for changing neural pathways and increasing the quality of life. 

Per, the Havening Technique® is “a method designed to change the brain to de-traumatize the memory and remove its negative effects from both our psyche and body.”  While the website lists a disclaimer that the technique lacks substantial scientific research, it does state the technique has shown promise in helping individuals cope with various emotional distress.


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The scientific foundation of Havening 

Havening is based on the concept that therapeutic touch can influence the brain's pathways connected to emotional distress. The theory suggests that touch stimulates the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for relaxation and detachment from upsetting memories. 

Serotonin and the Havening technique work to slow down brain waves and create new neural pathways associated with certain memories.  The technique can take the participants' brain state out of Beta— our fastest waves, which when over aroused cause stress, anxiety and overwhelm— by creating a Delta wave.  This Delta wave is much slower (for reference, you are in Delta when you are in deep sleep) and creates a relaxation effect, which can soothe and alleviate mental health symptoms.

The technique is designed to help individuals create a "haven" for themselves in a single session. More in-depth Havening practices involve touch, visualization, and specific eye movements, which work together to disrupt the brain pathways associated with distressing memories and emotions. But you don’t need to work with a practitioner; you can gain benefits from Havening by self-applying the technique.


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The Havening process

You can easily apply the self-havening technique by using the “Arm Rubbing” method. To start, sit comfortably in a place where you will not be disturbed. Begin rubbing your arms up and down with your hands while visualizing a visually oriented task, such as walking down stairs or removing items from a drawer. This action helps initiate the havening process. (Specific videos on how to perform Havening Techniques can be found on the Havening website.)

As you continue to rub your arms up and down, you may bring to mind a stressful situation or feelings of anxiety.  These could be moments of your day, or a specific memory.  Continue to apply the Havening Touch(™) as the emotional charge of those thoughts reduces. These may overwhelm you, so go slowly and up to your tolerance.  

As you continue the process, you may choose to say affirming statements to yourself, either silently or out loud, to create new associations for the memory or emotion. 


Examples of affirmations to try when Havening:

  • “Safe”
  • “Peaceful”
  • “Hopeful”
  • “Calm”

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Havening effects can be felt with any repetitive sensory motion.  So if you are in a place where rubbing your arms together feels too obvious, you can create the same effect by rubbing your hands together in the motion you would use to wash your hands.  

While rubbing your hands, you can also think of something unrelated to your stress or anxiety, such as singing a song in your head, saying a prayer, or thinking of a word associated with every letter of the alphabet. This gives your thinking brain a different job.  Using this technique when something begins to feel fearful slows down the amygdala (the fear center of your brain) and gets you out of “fight or flight” thinking.  This allows you to regain control of your thoughts before they spiral. 

While you can use Havening Techniques on your own, you may choose to work with a professional. The specific techniques and variations may differ, but the general process remains consistent. The aim of Havening is to reduce the individual's level of distress to zero or one, or achieve stable levels/feelings after several repetitions.


It is highly recommended to seek a professional Havening practitioner to deal with severe emotional trauma or painful memories.



Does Havening really work?

While Havening shows promise in addressing emotional distress, it is important to note that there is limited research supporting its effectiveness. The lack of controlled trials and small sample sizes restrict the ability to draw definitive conclusions.

One study conducted on healthcare professionals experiencing symptoms of depression or anxiety reported general improvement of symptoms and work performance after a Havening session. However, the study did not use a control group and relied on participants’ self-reporting, which makes it more challenging to draw a direct conclusion.


Another study focused on Havening as a pain management technique after surgery.  However, the study found no significant difference in pain levels or medication use in the Havening group compared to the control group. These mixed results should be taken into consideration in any discussion of the effectiveness of Havening.

That said, if you have ongoing anxiety and overwhelm and want to try Havening, it is safe and low risk of harm.  You can easily incorporate the practice alongside evidence-based approaches, such as talk therapy and other recommended treatments prescribed by mental health professionals.

Final thoughts on the role of Havening in mental health treatment 

Like any treatment, Havening isn't going to work the same way for everyone, and serious mental health concerns should be be raised with a credentialed mental health practitioner. However, with a technique like Havening, giving it a try has few drawbacks and almost no real risks. 

At this point, even without the long-term peer-reviewed data to back it, Havening is an interesting neuroscience therapy technique developed to address emotional distress associated with anxiety and trauma. While even the creators admit it lacks extensive scientific research and results, the founders' website offers more anecdotes and information, so you can decide for yourself.


If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or anxious, take a few moments to initiate the technique and see how you feel. If you feel better, continue the practice and maybe seek out a professional for more in-depth work. The low risk of harm and the simple technique can make Havening a helpful addition to your self-care and mental health toolkit.

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Amy Bracht is a coach and consultant with a knack for transforming high-level concepts into practical solutions. She crafts innovative strategies designed to guide individuals toward their full potential.