The power of Havening

By Lauren Edwards

I hate flying. I love travelling, but the thought of strapping myself into a tubular tin can, reaching heights of over five miles at 500mph, turns my legs to jelly. The worst bit for me is the take off. The bone shaking noise as the engines accelerate, the indescribable feeling of the plane zooming down the runway and then my stomach somersaulting the moment we become airborne.

As the thrust of the engine calms, and we continue our ascent, there is a deathly quiet. This is when my toes are curled, I don’t want to put my feet on the ground, my hands are sweating, I’m twisting the fingers of my husband/friend who is trying to talk me down from my anxious state. And all I’m thinking is, why is it so quiet? Have the engines cut out? I crane my neck to try and see the cabin crew and gauge whether this is an emergency or not. I desperately eyeball the seatbelt sign, willing it to turn off and the pilot thereby informing us that all is well.

I look at my fellow passengers, who are mostly casually reading their newspapers, I fight off the urge to shout at them “Do you know where your emergency exit is? Why didn’t you watch the safety demonstration? If you don’t know how to tie up your life jacket in the event of an emergency, I won’t help you, you know!”

I try to find my rationality. This is the safest mode of transport after all. The engine noises I am concerned about are all perfectly normal. Before each flight, the plane is put through rigorous checks and I should just be able to sit back, relax, enjoy the incredible view with a warm glass of Chardonnay in a plastic tumbler. But I don’t. I want to enjoy it. But I can’t.

I have read various self-help books. Chatted to cabin crew and pilots about how ‘it’s just a job’ to them and really nothing for me to worry about. I have tried to face my fear and have flown long haul by myself, although this did result in me grabbing the hand of a complete stranger next to me during some quite terrifying turbulence.

And then I mentioned my phobia to my lovely friend Jen, who suggested I tried Havening. Was this a type of analgesic? Perhaps another brand name for Valium? Take two Havening’s with food before boarding?

Havening is actually a process which uses therapeutic touch to produce a reaction within the brain to change the way we feel about past events or a particular phobia. The theory rests on the idea that touch can help boost the production of serotonin in your brain and help you detach from an upsetting memory or experience. The aim is to help you create a ‘haven’ for yourself in one short session.

“When an event or experience is perceived as traumatic or very stressful, it becomes immutably encoded, often with life altering consequences. However, recent research in the field of neuroscience has shown us how it’s possible to modify this encoding.

Dr Ronald Ruden, and his brother Dr Steven Ruden, the creators of Havening.

Perfect for fearful flyers, and luckily for me, my friend Jen is an expert in Havening and suggested we give it a go. Firstly, she asked me to picture my deepest fears about flying, to focus on the worst-case scenario. I closed my eyes and put myself in a seat during take off and imagined that the engines had stopped, that my lack of control over the flight had come true. She then instructed me to stroke my hands from my shoulders, down my arms and then repeat as she took me on a virtual tour of my favourite beach. As her soothing voice expertly walked me through the imaginary waves, I could feel the sand between my toes and pictured the sunset as I counted back from 50.

We repeated this technique with different scenarios, as I continued to count down and then moved my eyes from left to right in regular intervals. I climbed stairs, pictured my family and friends in a familiar setting and all the time I stroked my arms and drifted deeper into a different realm. As our meditation drew to an end, I felt completely relaxed. She asked me whether I could picture my earlier thoughts about flying and I couldn’t. I wasn’t able to think negatively about the experience as I had done 20 minutes earlier which was weird, but pretty remarkable.

Prior to this experience, I had never heard of Havening before, but it really isn’t a new thing. In fact, it has been a useful tool for many psychologists to help eradicate negative emotions and traumas in their clients. Havening focuses on exploring how trauma affects the ‘fight or flight’ part of the brain, also known as the amygdala, where our emotions are kept and coded. The Havening touch helps us create delta waves, which we ordinarily develop when we sleep, to remove any encoded traumatic experience and return the amygdala to feeling safe again.

In fact, Justin Bieber is a huge fan of Havening and has documented his Havening experience in an episode of his fly-on-the-wall documentary series. Biebs speaks openly about his mental health and how he struggles with the media spotlight and often feels emotionally overwhelmed and judged for showing his true feelings. He credits Havening as a way to ‘reset his emotional state’ and that when he feels stressed on tour or at a public event, he will practise the technique to bring him back to a sense of calm.

It’s basically like a self-soothing thing. Everybody kind of has their own of version of Havening without even knowing it. It’s like when you’re a little kid and you suck your thumb to soothe yourself.”

Hailey Bieber (wife of Justin)

I am happily now feeling a new-found confidence about getting on a plane again and the strangest thing is that I am finding it really difficult to think about flying at all. I just really hope that my ‘fight or flight’ mode will not feel the need to kick in the next time I head into the clouds. Only time will tell I suppose. I may just need to ‘pull a Bieber’ at the airport and get Jen to add another session in at the departure lounge but, as things stand, my sense of dread has also taken a holiday.

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