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Give yourself a ‘virtual hug’ to calm stress and anxiety

Researchers at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) are looking for people to give themselves a ‘virtual hug’ as they trial an online self-administered psychosensory technique to help with stresses and worries.

Woman hugging herself
Havening techniques, such as stroking your arms, can be used to calm stress

The technique - called Havening - is used globally to help people to improve their mental health. Simple and quick to do, it involves a variety of activities including stroking their own arms and hands while performing self-affirming and anxiety reducing tasks.

Dr Alex Sumich, Associate Professor in Biopsychology and Mental Health at NTU’s School of Social Sciences, said: “As the challenges around Covid-19 and coming out of lockdown continue, we want to offer help for those who need it via the use of a ‘virtual hug’, and encourage everyone to take time out to be kind to themselves.

“In this study, we will ask volunteers to use short videos of Havening practitioners to guide them as they self-administer the technique. We will then gather information about the effectiveness of the technique on mood using online questionnaires.”

Volunteers, especially key workers, are wanted to test whether this technique helps them with reducing their stress and anxiety. There are no restrictions - to take part in this research, volunteers just need to be over 18 years old. They will be given access to brief online practitioner guided videos that can be used as little or as often and wherever volunteers chose. Volunteers will also be asked to complete short online questionnaires around their mood, mental health and wellbeing.

To find out more and take part in this research, visit the website or contact Dr Kirsty Hunter via email: or Tel: +44 (0) 115 848 3069

  • Notes for editors

    Press enquiries please contact Helen Breese, Public Relations Manager, on telephone +44 (0)115 848 8751, or via email.


    Havening is a relatively new psychosensory therapy that treats symptoms caused by traumatic encoding of negative events through the use of sensory input to encourage positive emotions, and reduce thoughts and feelings associated with anxiety and psychological distress. It is an eclectic technique that incorporates the facilitatory component of nurturing touch. Typically, the therapist strokes the client’s arms, hands and face, whilst the client performs tasks adapted from established therapeutic methods, such as eye-movement desensitisation and re-processing and positive psychology. This method purportedly activates similar wellbeing-associated physiological mechanisms to receiving a hug and facilitates the therapeutic effect. Self-havening is typically used if the client has touch-aversion or if geography or other factors make 'in person' sessions difficult and purportedly has a similar effect.

    For more information about Havening Technique visit the website

    About Nottingham Trent University

    Nottingham Trent University (NTU) was named University of the Year 2019 in the Guardian University Awards. The award was based on performance and improvement in the Guardian University Guide, retention of students from low-participation areas and attainment of BME students.

    NTU was also the Times Higher Education University of the Year 2017, and The Times and Sunday Times Modern University of the Year 2018. These awards recognise NTU for its high levels of student satisfaction, its quality of teaching, its engagement with employers, and its overall student experience.

    The university has been rated Gold in the Government’s Teaching Excellence Framework – the highest ranking available.

    It is one of the largest UK universities. With nearly 32,000 students and more than 4,000 staff located across four campuses, the University contributes £900m to the UK economy every year. With an international student population of more than 3,000 from around 100 countries, the University prides itself on its global outlook.

    The university is passionate about creating opportunities and its extensive outreach programme is designed to enable NTU to be a vehicle for social mobility. NTU is among the UK’s top five recruiters of students from disadvantaged backgrounds and was awarded University of the Year in the UK Social Mobility Awards 2019.

    A total of 82% of its graduates go on to graduate entry employment or graduate entry education or training within six months of leaving. Student satisfaction is high: NTU achieved an 87% satisfaction score in the 2019 National Student Survey.

Give yourself a ‘virtual hug’ to calm stress and anxiety

Published on 24 June 2020
  • Category: Press office; Research; School of Science and Technology; School of Social Sciences

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