E book Making Friends with Difficult Emotions Via Touch
Making Friends with
“From the rough and tumble play of
five-year-old children to a mother’s
caresses, touch plays a vital role in the
building of the brain,
the mind, and the self...”
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Dr. Mike Changaris, post-doctoral resident
I currently work with children and families who are facing significant
life challenges. For more than ten years I have been supporting people
to find connections with their body first as a body-worker and now as
a pre-licensure therapist.
I am deeply committed to helping people make friends with their
experiences, their mind and emotions! When I first came to this work
I was quite disconnected from my body. Through understanding the
body and the brain I am now able to do more and feel deeply
connected to my life than I could have ever expected.
I would like to share some of the things I have found along the way
with you. It is exciting to introduce you to your brain and ways you can
help use this knowledge to transform your life.
Table of Contents
1. Touch and Emotions.
2. Emotion Regulation Through Touch.
3. Two Types of Emotional Regulation.
4. Skills for Making Friends with Difficult
5. Skill #1: Making Friends with Difficult
Emotions Through Self-Touch.
6. Skill #2: Puppy love… Building positive
emotion through contact with a pet.
Touch and Emotion
You might be asking… What on earth does touch have to do
with emotions? The truth is A LOT! How could touch possibly
help me learn to make friends with emotions?
When we were very
small and before we
had words we
touch. When we
cried as an infant we
were soothed by
It is through a mother’s touch that we learned about our
bodies and our feeling of safety in the world. As adults when
we are upset often a friend might pat us on the back or give
us a hug. Some of us had difficult relationships with our
parents. For those of us who did, finding safe ways to receive
nurturing touch can allow you to build your core feeling of
safety in the world.
Scientists and therapists alike have neglected the power of
human touch in psychotherapy. Touch is one of the most
understudied senses. However, recently some researchers
have started to change this! The current research out of the
touch and emotion lab has found that even adults use touch to
communicate their emotions.
These studies have found that people can identify emotions
such as anger, fear, disgust, love, gratitude, and sympathy
through physical touch with a high degree of accuracy.
Other studies have shown that people can accurately read the
emotions communicated by touch by simply watching touch on
a film, T.V. or movie. Try this out. Next time you are watching
T.V. turn down the sound and just watch how people touch
each other. You will find you can learn a lot about what people
are trying to say even with out the words! Up to 80% of
communication is body language. A lot of body language is
communicated through touch!
For more info about emotions and touch
check out the touch
and emotions lab @
Emotion Regulation Through Touch
What is emotion regulation?
Emotion regulation is how we learn
to tolerate, reduce, enjoy and in
some cases just survive difficult
Touch can be a profound way to
learn to make friends with our emotional experiences. Emotions
are a big part of human life. They help us solve problems, find out
what is most true for us and even make decisions. Some emotions
are difficult and some are enjoyable.
In our brains there are key areas that help us make friends with
our emotions. Some people think that an emotion is two things: A
thought in the mind and the sensations in the body. The right
brain connects our bodily feeling of emotions up to our conscious
mind. The left brain is the part that names or puts thought labels
on our feelings. Touch and particularly soothing touch helps to
activate the parts of our brains that supports us to “regulate” or
make friends with our emotions.
When we are overwhelmed our emotional regulation system shuts
down. Soothing, kind touch helps to wake it up! The emotional
regulation system is the part of the brain (Medial Pre-frontal
Cortex a.k.a. – mPFC and Anterior Cingulate Cortex – ACC) that
tells your body and mind that you are safe! It is like a big hug for
difficult emotions. Soothing touch also tells our emotional brain
to activate feelings of rest and safety.
Two Types of Emotional Regulation
Co-regulation: This is Regulation of emotion through the
interaction with another person or animal. Talking with a
friend, rocking a baby and giving a hug are all ways people use
co-regulation of emotions!
Emotional Regulation Skills: This is using skills to help your
body and mind make friends with your
The Science of Touch
Touch is as vital as food for us
humans. An infant who does not have
adequate physical contact from her or
his family will not survive. We humans
are social animals. We become who we are through
interactions with others. Our emotions are no different! As
we grow up we learn to soothe or make friends with difficult
emotions through our relationships. Touch is a key way we as
humans learn to tolerate and handle difficult emotions. A
hug from a friend when we are sad, a pat on the back after a
difficult game, and giving a high five allow us to reduce
stress and be at home with many different emotions.
Touch can affect your brain too! It changes the same
systems that are changed by anti-depressant and anxiety
medications, just at a lower level. Massage has been shown
to reduce symptoms of depression, stress, anxiety and
Having one positive emotion after a stressful event
increases how fast a person goes from stress to rest.
Soothing, safe touch can be an effective means to provide
an experience of safety, relaxation and positive emotions.
For more information
Check out the
The Touch Research Institute @
Two Skills for Making Friends with
Now we would like to give you some tools you can use to
build positive emotions and make friends with your
emotions. Some emotions can be difficult to tolerate.
Touch and self-acceptance can help us tolerate
difficult emotions and build the ability to be resilient
in the face of many life difficulties!
We hope you enjoy the skills.
Skill #1: Making Friends with
Overview: In this skill you will provide
solid firm pressure with your hands on: 1.
Your shoulders, 2. Your chest and belly
and 3. The outside of your legs.
Step 1: Find a comfortable place that you know you will not be
Step 2: Let your self get comfortable and settle in. Look around
the room. Notice your surroundings and then let your mind
become curious about the way your back contacts the chair.
Notice these sensations. Let yourself be curious about what
they are like.
Step 3: Wrap your arms around your chest like you are giving
yourself a hug. Put your hands on the outside of your shoulders
and apply a firm steady pressure. Notice if there is a change in
your breathing. Hold this position for at least four breaths.
Step 4: Put one hand lightly on your stomach and the other
lightly on your chest. Let them rise and fall with your breath
a couple of times. Then apply a firm steady pressure to your
chest and belly that still allows you to breath easily. Hold this
position for four breaths.
Step 5: Put your hands on the outside of your legs. Press your
legs firmly into your hands. Notice what happens to your breath.
Notice any positive feelings that occur inside your body.
Step 6: Let your eyes look around the room and notice what
they are drawn to look at. Just let your eyes find something to
rest on. Notice what you like about the object. Then notice your
back and how it contacts the chair. At your own pace get up and
let yourself take a few moments before you go back to your
When to use the skill:
1. When you are feeling anxious, angry or overwhelmed.
2. Five minutes of using this skill each day will over
time increase your ability to respond to life stress.
3. Use this skill before bedtime in a dim light to
increase ease of falling asleep.
4. After a stressful day.
Why it works: Deep touch contacts our muscles and our deep
nerve endings. These deep nerve endings tell our mind we are
safe. This tells the body to stop producing the pain hormone
and to produce the resting hormones. The deep pressure is
also associated with an increased rest response (a.k.a.
parasympathetic response) and a decreased fight/ flight
response (a.k.a. sympathetic response).
Noticing your experience of touch in the moment with
curiosity coaxes your social engagement system online. Our
social engagement system in our brain is active when we are
with people we trust and love.
Physical touch calls the part of the brain responsible for
emotion regulation online (mPFC – a.k.a. the orbital medial
prefrontal cortex). This helps you to find ways to make
friends with the emotion. Happy practicing.
We hope you enjoy it!
Skill #2: Puppy love…
Building positive emotion
with a pet.
Overview: In this skill you’ll
interact with your favorite animal (puppy, cat or other
pettable animal... sorry to those with porcupines for
pets). If you do not have an animal of your own, borrow a
Step 1: Sit down with the animal. Let yourself look
around the room. Notice what your eyes are drawn to.
Just let your eyes rest on what they are drawn to. At
your own pace find another object in the room that your
eyes like to rest on. I will invite you to take you attention
inside for a moment. As you look around your inner world
notice any place on the inside of you body that feels
Step 2: Lay down with the animal. Notice the contact.
Let your self pet or snuggle with the animal. See if you
can discover this animal’s favorite spot to be petted.
Notice the sensations in your body as you pet the animal.
Step 3: Notice any positive emotions, sensations or
feelings that arise inside of you. Humans have a tendency
to only notice the negative things in life! This is your
chance to build a new habit and notice the parts of your
experience that feel good.
However, some people find that they are feeling lots of
negative emotions and have difficulty finding positive
ones! Don’t worry. Let yourself ignore them for a minute.
As you do that put 100% of your attention into petting
the animal. When the negative emotions come back into
your mind simply name it as a negative emotion comes, and
shift your attention back to petting the animal with 100%
When to use the skill:
1. When you are stressed or have an emotion that is
difficult to tolerate.
2. When you are having difficulty sleeping.
3. After a stressor, a loss, or when feeling sad.
Why it works: We humans are social animals. We
regulate emotions or learn to make friends with our
emotions through interactions with others. Gorillas
in the wild who have some one to groom them and
who groom others actually live longer!
Someone caring for another animal reduces our own
stress levels and increases the amount of positive
emotion we experience. In our brains touch
increases the hormone of safety and love (a.k.a.
oxytocin) and reduces the stress hormone (a.k.a
cortisol). In other words it helps us feel safe and
A word of caution!
Learning anything new takes work! Some people may try
these skills once, feel frustrated that they did not work
and give up. It is important to use the skill with small
amounts of feeling before trying to work with large
amounts of emotions! It is like lifting weights. As you
practice you get stronger! So does your brain. As always
if practicing this skill brings up a lot of emotion, contact
your therapist or seek out a therapist who can work with
Well, that about covers it for the MyShrink – Making
friends with difficult emotions through touch. I hope you
enjoyed it and found some relief and relaxation!
We always love to hear people’s thoughts about how this
has helped you in your life. Please feel free to send us
questions, feed back and
Good Luck on Your