5 Keys to the Butterfly Hug to Calm Anxiety
There are days when everything feels overwhelming, and anxiety makes a knot in your chest. If you’ve been feeling this way for a while, we suggest you try a simple technique that reduces these physiological symptoms. The butterfly hug is a resource based on bilateral stimulation that offers almost immediate well-being.
This hug is based on the EMDR therapeutic model aimed at treating post-traumatic stress or intense anxiety. If you also accompany it with a positive visualization exercise, body tension is relieved more quickly and effectively.
The practice was developed in 1997 in the aftermath of Hurricane Paulina, which devastated southern Mexico. Thanks to this resource, many survivors handled that harsh emotional impact a little better. We’ll give you all the keys in the following article.
The butterfly hug: Keys to enhance your well-being
The butterfly hug seeks to simulate the movements of this insect on your chest in order to stimulate the two cerebral hemispheres. The objective is to produce a state of neurological relaxation through a series of taps. Now, it’s possible that this simple explanation raises some doubts about its effectiveness. However, one aspect should be noted.
The technique is integrated into EMDR therapy, in which, in one of its phases, bilateral stimulation is applied. Due to it, little by little, an emotional desensitization occurs.
A Frontiers in Psychology paper highlights the usefulness of this approach for treating patients with post-traumatic stress. Below, we suggest you go deeper into the subject.
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1. Who developed the technique?
The butterfly hug was developed by psychologists and EMDR therapists Lucina Artigas and Ignacio Jarero in 1997. They applied the method with survivors of Tropical Cyclone Paulina in southern Mexico and later published in the Journal of EMDR Practice and Research. This assistance protocol was very effective, especially with children.
From that moment on, said hug became popular inside and outside of therapeutic settings.
2. How to apply this hug?
You’ll be interested to know that this tool is very simple to execute. It can be part of your first aid kit when you feel that anguish is blocking you, and your anxiety barely allows you to breathe or think clearly. Take note of each step to carry it out effectively:
- Sit in a quiet setting.
- You can perform this technique standing or sitting.
- Get comfortable and cross your arms over your chest.
- Your fingertips should be below your clavicle.
- Hands and fingers should point towards your neck.
- Now, interlock your thumbs to form the body of the butterfly.
- The extension of your fingers will represent the wings of the insect.
- Give 5 taps on your chest, alternating the right and left hands.
- Do these movements for about 30 seconds, rest a bit, and start again.
- Take a deep breath and let the emotions gradually harmonize.
- Accept the thoughts and emotions that arise, without judging them. Allow them to pass.
You can do the butterfly hug exercise while visualizing something pleasant; the duration ranges from 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Why is it an effective method?
The butterfly technique to reduce anxiety is based on “positive alternating bilateral stimulation.” As we pointed out, it’s a strategy typical of EMDR therapy, and science has been studying its benefits for some time. Specifically, this type of stimulation produces a series of notable benefits, as described in an article in the PloS One journal . These are:
- Promotes emotional regulation.
- Bilateral stimulation evokes the memory of pleasant events.
- It induces relaxation and experiences feelings of comfort and calm.
4. Is it good for something other than anxiety?
This technique has become popular in recent times, thanks to social networks like TikTok. It’s common to see many young people carry out this hug on the chest that simulates the fluttering of a butterfly. In general, it’s always applied to regulate anxiety. However, you’ll be interested to know that it has areas where it can produce benefits, which are the following:
- Problems falling asleep: If you suffer from insomnia, or worry prevents you from enjoying a good rest, carry out this simple exercise.
- Panic attacks: In those moments when you find it difficult to breathe, experience feelings of unreality, and have the feeling that something bad could happen to you, practice this hug.
- Dealing with very stressful situations: Job interviews, a medical appointment, a public presentation, taking an exam… Life is full of complicated situations, and this resource is useful to deal with them better.
- Emotional First Aid: Now that you know about the butterfly hug, don’t hesitate to teach it to others when they’re having a hard time. Sometimes, upon receiving bad news or witnessing something traumatic, many people collapse. Guide them in this process, and you’ll see how they start to feel better.
The butterfly technique to relieve anxiety is mainly used in emergency and catastrophic situations. Thanks to it, survivors experience greater physiological calm to process what happened.
5. It allows you to process your emotions
When you perform this technique, the first thing you’ll experience is a sense of self-protection and relief. Although such an exercise won’t solve the root of your problems, it’s a great start, as a space of physical and emotional calm is achieved, from which you can start working on yourself.
Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience shared an article stating that about 33.7% of the population is affected by an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Always having this technique on hand serves as an emotional lifeline, at any given moment so that anguish doesn’t escalate excessively. Therefore, you better regulate physiological hyperarousal and better assimilate what happens to you.
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Hug yourself to relax
Life can be very chaotic, uncertain, and even threatening. It’s true that you never know what can await you at any given time. But in order to face any adversity, there’s nothing better than having some simple psychological resources. Something as simple as simulating the movements of a butterfly with your hands on your chest is beneficial.
Those alternating taps, first on one side and then on the other, are good for your brain; they stimulate and relieve it at the same time and generate positive emotions. Therefore, don’t hesitate to resort to this technique when you need it. However, don’t forget that this is an auxiliary tool that’s not a substitute for therapy. If you have a problem that’s difficult for you to address, don’t hesitate to ask for professional help.It might interest you...
All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.
- Amano, T., & Toichi, M. (2016). The role of alternating bilateral stimulation in establishing positive cognition in EMDR therapy: A multi-channel near-infrared spectroscopy study. PloS One, 11(10), e0162735. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5061320/
- Bandelow, B., & Michaelis, S. (2015). Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st century. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 17(3), 327–335. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4610617/
- Claramente Org. (2018, 30 octubre). Abrazo de mariposa. YouTube.
- Jarero, I., Artigas, L., Montero, M., & Lena, L. (2008). The EMDR integrative group treatment protocol: Application with child victims of a mass disaster. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, 2(2), 97–105. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233688637_The_EMDR_Integrative_Group_Treatment_Protocol_Application_With_Child_Victims_of_a_Mass_Disaster
- Valiente-Gómez, A., Moreno-Alcázar, A., Treen, D., Cedrón, C., Colom, F., Pérez, V., & Amann, B. L. (2017). EMDR beyond PTSD: A systematic literature review. Frontiers in Psychology, 8, 1668. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5623122/