Feeling particularly anxious or stressed recently? In a recent survey, more than half of U.S. adults said their stress levels increased during the pandemic. Even before the dreaded C-word, a Gallup World Poll reported about 55 percent of Americans are regularly stressed out.
But rather than wringing your hands in worry, you can actually give yourself a hand for more immediate anxiety relief.
So can hand techniques help stress and anxiety?
Using hand techniques like Jin Shin Jyutsu, The Calming Hand, and reflexology may promote relaxation to combat the effects of stress.
Experiencing high levels of anxiety and stress not only does a number on your mental health. Consistently feeling on edge can lead to headaches, nausea, insomnia, and muscle aches. Plus, longer-term concerns like a weakened immune system, digestive issues, and heart disease. Yikes.
Here’s how these hand techniques could be the antidote your stressed-out situation.
Illustration by Mekhi Baldwin
1. Jin Shin Jyutsu
What is it?
Chances are you haven’t heard of this Japanese healing practice. Created by Master Jiro Murai in the early 20th Century, the goal of Jin Shin Jyutsu is to balance your body’s energy system to heal and restore harmony.
“Through his own investigative healing journey, and his study of ancient traditions, he discovered ways we can harmonize the energy in our body,” explains Alexis Brink, director of Jin Shin Institute and author of The Art of Jin Shin and Healing at Your Fingertips.
To do this, Jin Shin Jyutsu practitioners use their hands to apply pressure to 26 Safety Energy Locations on either side of the body (similar to acupuncture or acupressure techniques).
“When we hold these, congested areas begin to open up and energy can flow uninterruptedly again, so the body can function optimally,” she shares.
How to do it:
“A specific technique that is accessible to anyone is to gently hold the entire index finger to harmonize fear,” says Brink.
Wrap the fingers of one hand around the index finger of your other hand, so it’s fully enveloped and nestled in your palm. This is when you’ll feel a light pulsation.“It isn’t necessary to close the eyes, but you can if that feels best. The point is to feel comfortable,” Brink says.
How it helps with anxiety and stress:
In addition to being highly relaxing, Brink says Jin Shin “works with our feelings and emotions, and allows us to reconnect to the rhythm of universal energy, consciousness.” She adds that, similar to meditation, it also aids in calming the nervous system and mind.
But what does the research say? Scientists have only recently started exploring the relationship between The Art of Jin Shin and stress. But, so far, results look positive.
A 2014 study that followed nurses using Jin Shin discovered associations with lower stress, plus less sleepiness, enhanced motivation, and gratitude. A recent study also found a significant decrease in stress among nurses using the approach.
2. The Calming Hand
What is it?
Often shared by mental health professionals, this technique is used to encourage relaxation or slow breathing during a panic attack. The Calming Hand basically uses each finger as a reminder for certain breathing and relaxation prompts.
“Its beautiful simplicity means that even in public and heightened arousal, it’s easy to recall and reference,” explains Lee Chambers, environmental psychologist and well-being consultant.
How to do it
Forget using fingers for counting. Here, each digit prompts an action that will help calm racing thoughts and help you breathe.
Recognize: “First, hold your thumb, recognize how you are feeling, and accept that you can begin to control your response,” Chambers shares. Sigh out: Next, move to your index finger — you don’t have to grip this finger (or any of the others during the next steps), but lightly touching them with your fingertips can help in guiding you through. Breathe in, sigh deeply, and let your upper body flop. Pull yourself up when ready.Inhale: Continue to the middle finger, where you take a slow inhale. Exhale: At finger four, enjoy a gentle exhale.Stretch and relax: Finally, at the little finger, “stretch your hand out, create tension, and release it,” Chambers instructs. “Following this, continue to breathe deeply.”
You can repeat these steps as needed.
How it helps with anxiety and stress:
It may seem simple, but breathing can really influence the body as a whole. “Deep breathing… encourages full oxygen exchange, which can slow our heart rate and stabilize our blood pressure,” Chambers explains. Plus, “focusing on the breath helps us disengage from distraction and stressors.”
But other aspects of the technique are beneficial, too. “Squeezing your thumb provides a level of comfort and control, and you also stimulate visuals and touch,” Chambers notes. “By focusing on numerous senses… we are more likely to move away from what is currently making us stressed.”
Sighing also activates hearing and encourages tension to melt away, while concentrating on the hand itself encourages us to remain in the present.
What is it?
Despite being introduced into Western cultures during the early 20th century, this practice is certainly far from new.
“Reflexology has been used to help to relieve stress and stress-related illness for over 5000 years,” explains Suzanne Rawle, reflexologist and complementary therapist.
Essentially reflexology practitioners apply pressure to specific areas on the hands, feet, or ears. The idea is these certain points correspond to different organs and body systems to promote health.
How to do it
Use your thumb to firmly trace an arc-shaped line from the base of your other thumb, across your palm, and down to just underneath your heart line (the top line running across your palm). Next, firmly trace a line from the inside of your thumb knuckle, moving down the edge of the thumb pad. Then move along the base of the hand until you reach the opposite side.Optional: You can also press firmly in small, circular movements on the end of your thumb, on the squishy thumb pad, and in the center of your palm, Rawle explains.
To get the most out of these sequences, Rawle recommends working on both hands for 5 minutes every day.
How it helps with anxiety and stress
“[Reflexology] is thought to bring the body into a state of homeostasis, where all the systems of the body are in balance,” Rawle says. “There are around 7000 nerve endings in each hand and foot reporting back to the brain, and the belief is that there are also energy channels flowing from the hands and feet to other areas of the body.”
Beyond what practitioners preach, there’s also science to support the use of hand reflexology in reducing stress.
A 2017 study found hand reflexology significantly relieved feelings of anxiety in interventional cardiology patients. Other studies have shown the technique can be useful in reducing pain-related anxiety and potentially lowering workplace stress.
These three unique approaches are quick and easy when you’re in a pinch to ditch stress. All you need are your hands.
While there is research to support these hand techniques might work to relieve stress, you won’t know what works until you try it out yourself. But, just a few maneuvers of your digits could be all it takes to lower anxiety levels and settle a pounding heart — no waiting required.
Chantelle Pattemore is a writer and editor based in London, UK. She focuses on lifestyle, health, beauty, food, and fitness.