Self-Regulation Techniques for Stress Relief

Dr. Peter Levine’s Containment Method

Self-Regulation Techniques for Stress Relief

Containment is a concept from psychoanalytic theory that refers to the action of keeping something harmful under control or within limits. In therapy, the therapist receives, holds, and transforms the client’s raw experiences, providing a safe and supportive space for them to process their emotions. Containment can also be used as a self-help tool, using your own body as a source of safety and comfort.

One of the pioneers of containment technique is Dr. Peter Levine, who is an expert in somatic attachment therapy. Somatic attachment therapy is a holistic, body-centered approach to attachment based therapy, including a deeper understanding of the body’s relationship with developmental and relational wounding and healing. Dr. Levine developed a simple but effective exercise that uses deep breathing and hand positioning to create a sense of containment and safety in your body.

Here is how you can do it:

  • Take your right hand and place it under your left arm, closer to your heart.
  • Take your left hand and place it over your right shoulder, creating a cross shape with your arms.
  • Breathe deeply and slowly for about two minutes, feeling the warmth and pressure of your hands on your body.
  • After two minutes, move your left hand to your forehead, keeping your right hand under your left arm.
  • Breathe deeply and slowly for another two minutes, feeling the contact of your hand on your forehead.
  • After another two minutes, move your left hand to your abdomen, your solar plexus, keeping your right hand under your left arm.
  • Breathe deeply and slowly for another two minutes, feeling the contact of your hand on your abdomen.

This exercise may feel strange or awkward at first, but there is a lot of research and personal experience that supports its effectiveness. By doing this exercise, you are activating your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming and relaxing your body. You are also sending a message to your brain that you are safe and secure, and that you can handle whatever is troubling you.

Containment technique can help you:

  • Restore the body as a place of safety and as a conduit for love
  • Feel an embodied core sense of self
  • Compassionately renew a felt sense of connection and security
  • Release stored tensions in the body that contribute to defensiveness, avoidance, or anxiety
  • Expand the capacity to process body (preverbal and nonverbal) memory
  • Metabolize unprocessed emotions
  • Create deep and sustaining intimate relationships
  • Break the cycle of reenacting protective attachments patterns in relationships
  • Enhance the capacity for joy, trust, managing disappointments and rejections

Containment technique is not meant to suppress or avoid your feelings, but to give you a break and a choice of when and where to deal with them. It is a temporary and voluntary way of managing your emotions, not a permanent or forced one. You still need to face and process your feelings, preferably with the help of a professional therapist, but you can do it at your own pace and in a safe environment.

Containment technique is a simple but powerful way of regulating your body and emotions, especially when you are feeling overwhelmed by stress, anxiety, or trauma. It can help you feel more in control, more grounded, and more connected to yourself and others. It can also help you heal from your attachment wounds and trauma, and create more fulfilling and healthy relationships.