The power of soothing touch is something many of us have been fortunate enough to experience: a supportive hand on the shoulder, a gentle backrub, a comforting hug. When a child is hurt, a caring adult may reach out with a soothing touch and a soft voice to comfort that child. This soothing touch and gentle vocalization taps into our mammalian caregiver response, releasing oxytocin and opiates in both adults and children. We are wired to benefit from this form of physical compassion.

And here’s some more good news:

Regardless of how often or how little each of us has had soothing touch in our lives in the past, all of us have the ability to incorporate more of it into our lives here and now.

You can impart these acts of nurturance to yourself.


When you put your hand on your body with the intention of soothing yourself when you’re feeling sad, angry, frustrated or any other unpleasant emotion, you tap into your own mammalian caregiver response and your body releases oxytocin and opiates in your body. That release of calming hormones counteracts the cortisol and adrenalin that gets released into your brain when you have a fight/flight/freeze response to an actual or perceived danger.

Hand on Heart

When you have a negative feeling, it activates your fight/flight/freeze response. If you then beat yourself up for having that negative feeling—I screwed up, I always screw everything up—you add a second poison arrow, making the reaction even worse.

To break that cycle and regulate your system, try this easy, one-step soothing touch exercise:

Put your hand or hands on your heart. If the heart isn’t your soothing place, try your belly, your face, or your arms. Place your hands on your body wherever you find them most soothing.

This simple self-care gesture will calm you, especially if the intent is genuine. It is remarkably powerful and the results are nearly instantaneous. So, regardless of who else you have in your life that has nurtured you or is available to do so currently, you can access effective self-nurturance any time you need it.

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