The “Five Finger Trick” That Can Quiet Your Racing Mind

anxiety panic attack Nov 09, 2023

With all of the uncertainty in our world, it’s no wonder so many people struggle to quiet their racing minds.

But if you don’t take the time to actively rid your body of all that nervous energy, it can start to take its toll on you.

Especially if your cortisol levels start building up. That’s because cortisol—also known as the “stress hormone”—will start attacking your organs and bodily tissues if levels get too high.

Fortunately there’s a safe, powerful, all-natural technique that can lower your stress levels in five minutes or less. And all you need are your own two hands.

But first, let’s talk about what happens in the body when you’re overwhelmed. I’ve found that sometimes, it helps to understand that what you’re feeling is simply a chemical reaction.

Stress affects your working memory

Dr. Judson Brewer—Director of Research and Innovation Researchers at the Mindfulness Center, associate professor at Brown University, and research affiliate at MIT—explains that when you stress or worry about something, it affects the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC).

This brain region stores information you need in the moment—also known as your working memory. Your working memory is like a “mental sticky note,” helping you to store temporary information while you carry out a specific task.

For example, your working memory is at work when you briefly repeat a phone number to yourself before writing it down or programming it into your phone. Another example would be when you temporarily memorize a house number while driving to an address you’ve never been to before.

So when you can’t stop thinking about something that’s stressing you out, your worries begin to “move in” to this part of your brain, occupying the attention of your working memory. And if your mental stressors keep adding up, you can easily overload this part of your brain.

This overload activates your body’s sympathetic nervous system, sending adrenaline and cortisol all throughout your body—preparing you for “fight or flight” mode. These are the same stress hormones that keep your body on high alert, igniting those awful, anxious feelings.

In times like these, when your bodily systems are racing out of balance, you need a way to counteract the effects of stress and restore harmony. Fortunately, researchers have found that shifting your focus to your senses can have a powerful soothing effect on both your body and mind.


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The “Five Finger Breathing” Technique

Dr. Brewer recommends a simple yet effective technique to ease stress and bring forth calm and focus.

It combines breath work with exercises that utilize your senses—specifically sight and touch—and is a powerful way to interrupt the worry cycle overtaking your working memory.

This technique is called “five finger breathing.” Here’s how to do it:

1. Place the index finger on your left hand on the outside of the pinky finger on your right hand.

2. Take a slow, deep breath in while tracing up the outside of your pinky finger. Stop at the fingertip then slowly exhale, while tracing down the inside of your pinky finger. (Be sure to watch the motion of your hands as you do this.)

3. On your next breath, trace up the outside of your ring finger. On the exhale, trace down the inside of your ring finger.

4. Take another slow, deep breath in as you trace up the outside of your middle finger. Then exhale while you trace down the inside of your middle finger.

5. Continue this process, finger by finger, until you’ve “traced” your entire right hand.

6. Reverse the process and trace from your thumb back to your pinky.

7. Now it’s time to trace your left hand. Place the index finger on your right hand on the outside of your pinky on your left hand. Repeat steps 2 through 6.

As many of us have learned (especially during this past year), life can throw some very serious challenges your way. But always remember, your body’s built-in systems are there to help you—any time you need them. And the more you practice these techniques, the better and faster they’ll work—especially when you, or a loved one, need them the most.

Here's a quick tutorial that shows you how to do it:


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