Self-soothing for people with PTSD or C-PTSD
A new study has shown that a self-soothing touch, such as placing your hand over your heart, or wrapping your arms around yourself, gives you the same stress-reducing benefits of being hugged by another person.
The study, “Self-soothing touch and being hugged reduce cortisol responses to stress: A randomized controlled trial on stress, physical touch, and social identity” showed that self-touch and hugs lowered cortisol levels after a stress induction – this is vital information for people with PTSD or C-PTSD where their cortisol levels are often elevated (and then goes on to cause a host of symptoms).
One of the study authors , a doctoral candidate from the Goethe University Frankfurt said “Touch is a powerful communicator of safety and inclusion and my colleagues and I wanted to see if being touched can help cope with stressful experiences even if people touch themselves.
I teamed up with Beate Ditzen, PhD, who wrote a great article showing that women who were massaged by their partner had lower cortisol levels in a standardized stressful situation. Our research was a natural extension of this article. We wanted to show that self-soothing touch and being hugged can improve our ability to cope with stress.”
Why is this important for people with PTSD and C-PTSD?
With PTSD and C-PTSD – physical touch can sometimes trigger flashbacks or other symptoms. Sexual violence, rape, hostage situations, domestic violence, and any other trauma where escape felt impossible can cause a ‘simple’ hug from someone else to trigger a reminder of that feeling of being trapped – despite the person sometimes desperately wanting a hug, it’s just too much for them.
This is where self-soothing can come into play, it can help reduce that excess cortisol and therefore help reduce some PTSD and C-PTSD symptoms too – whilst also being an option to provide some immediate relief if you feel a panic attack, flashback or other imminent symptom beginning to start.
“When touch from others is unavailable or does not feel comfortable, self-soothing touch provides an alternative way to re-activate memories of support and compassion in the face of stress.
People can receive the same benefits when they use soothing touch gestures on themselves. For example, people can place their right hand over their heart and their left hand on their belly and focus on the warmth and pressure of the touch. In fact, people touch themselves to regulate their emotions subconsciously all the time. Some readers may touch their face or hands at this very moment. We suggest that people use self-touch deliberately to cope with stress.”
If this sounds something that you’d like to try, simply try placing one or two hands on your heart or stomach or stroking your upper arms or cheeks. It’s important to choose a way to touch that feels comfortable for you. You can also incorporate taking two to three deep breaths and concentrate on the warmth, the pressure of the hands, and your breathing.
It’s important to note, that while choosing your PTSD or C-PTSD recovery path you need to address both the symptoms and the underlying condition. NICE guidance updated in 2018 recommends the use of trauma focused psychological treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in adults, specifically the use of Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing (EMDR) and trauma focused cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Please remember, these aren’t meant to be medical recommendations, but they’re tactics that have worked for others and might work for you, too. Be sure to work with a professional to find the best methods for you.
Aljoscha Dreisoerner, Nina M. Junker, Wolff Schlotz, Julia Heimrich, Svenja Bloemeke, Beate Ditzen, Rolf van Dick: Self-soothing touch and being hugged reduce cortisol responses to stress: A randomized controlled trial on stress, physical touch, and social identity: Comprehensive Psychoneuroendocrinology, Volume 8, 2021, 100091, ISSN 2666-4976, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpnec.2021.100091.
Photo by Puwadon Sang-ngern
Hello! Did you find this information useful?
Please consider supporting PTSD UK with a donation to enable us to provide more information & resources to help us to support everyone affected by PTSD, no matter the trauma that caused it
PTSD UK Blog
You’ll find up-to-date news, research and information here along with some great tips to ease your PTSD in our blog.
PTSD UK Supporters Store
Treatments for PTSD
It is possible for PTSD to be successfully treated many years after the traumatic event occurred, which means it is never too late to seek help. For some, the first step may be watchful waiting, then exploring therapeutic options such as individual or group therapy – but the main treatment options in the UK are psychological treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprogramming (EMDR) and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
Traumatic events can be very difficult to come to terms with, but confronting and understanding your feelings and seeking professional help is often the only way of effectively treating PTSD. You can find out more in the links below, or here.