Rebel Scientist S2 E7: Hands-Up if you’re feeling emotional – with RebelFriend Kelvin Snaith
Updated: Jul 4
Kelvin Snaith is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and the founder of the revolutionary ‘Hands Up Therapy’ emotions management technique.
Following several years of work in a variety of clinical settings, including a busy Improving Access to Psychological Therapy (IAPT) service in England, Kelvin took a break from his practice to reflect on more than 5000 hours of therapy work with patients experiencing a range of anxiety and depression disorders.
While travelling through Asia, he discovered the benefits of spiritual and alternative practices when combined with evidence-based psychological techniques and became passionate about holistic mental health care. The result is 5000 Hours In Therapy, real-life self-help strategies that have worked for real-life clients in Kelvin’s sessions.
This week Kelvin spoke to Sarah and Russ about his simple technique to control emotions.
Sarah: Well, today I’ve got one of my best friends, Kelvin. And we’re talking to Kelvin because he’s an expert on emotions, which I think is something we really need to talk about currently, in this post COVID time when everybody’s a bit emotional. Kelvin has coached me many times on getting hold of my emotions, and he’s also written a book and developed his own app ‘Hands-up therapy’.
How did you get started in this field?
Kelvin: I originally started in physical health. I was working as a personal trainer and nutritionist for a while. I got very interested in the psychology and how a lot of my clients would workout when they were with me, but then the rest of the week, they wouldn’t do anything. So, I became very interested in how I can affect their mental health to help them get in the right headspace to maintain these practices. So, I trained as a cognitive behavioral psychotherapist, and I then worked for five years in the National Health Service as a therapist. I was working in a primary care service with the general public that are experiencing difficulties with mental health, depression and anxiety. I was lucky to be given a sabbatical, during which time I wrote a book (5000 Hours in Therapy) of all my learnings from my five years working with people.
Russ: I’ve been through lots of therapy. One of the key takeaways that my therapist is, she’ll help you identify the why. But at some point, you must graduate and it’s the practice of it. So it sounds like the practice part is something that you spend a lot of time on?
Kelvin: Definitely. And I think the most interesting thing is trying to empower people so that they can be their own practitioner and not relying upon somebody to get them healthy and well. And that’s one good thing about CBT. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a skills-based therapy. It is about empowering the person to be able to better manage their thoughts and emotions. But through my practice, I came up with a simple technique to manage emotions, which I guess you could say was new, really. As far as I’m aware, there’s nothing like it already out there. And so that’s what I’m calling the Hands up therapy technique.
Talk us through the technique
Kelvin: Yeah, sure. So let me try and talk you through how I would with if I was speaking with a client. The first thing that I usually say is that we all have emotions. And we all must find a way of managing those emotions. And so how do we do that? We all must find our way and people find healthier ways to do it. So, we learn from an early age to drink our emotions away, smoke them away, eat them away, or sleep them away.
What we do falls into one of two categories, really.
One category is, distracting ourselves from those emotions. And there’s a kind of resistance and a distraction from the emotion. So, drinking, smoking, eating, sleeping, and worrying. All of those would fall into the ‘I don’t want to feel this emotion, I want rid of this feeling.’
So, if I just do this thing, it’s going to help me to feel better.
And then the other category is what I refer to as hands up to the emotion. Just letting the emotion be. Not fighting it, not resisting it, not battling it, and just giving it some space to be felt and experienced.
A lot of people have come across the term mindfulness now. And they’re familiar with that, but essentially, I used to just talk to people about mindfulness and some people would get it, but a lot of people didn’t really understand what I was talking about. And they would be, "I don’t know what you mean. How do I accept this feeling?" And so then one day I came up with this idea of we could just literally put our hands up. And I use the analogy of if you think about being in a bank, waiting to go to the cashier, and then a gun man comes into the bank, and he points a gun at you and everyone else in the queue. And he says, "Put your hands up where I can see them." What would you do?
Sarah: Yeah, put your hands up straight away.
Kelvin: Yeah. So, we’re not going to take on the gun man. We’re going to realize that he’s not really interested in me, hopefully. He’s interested in the money in the bank. Let him get what he needs. This posture is quite a universal sign, isn’t it? We all recognize it.
Sarah: Like a surrender.
Kelvin: Like a surrender posture. So, I say, in some ways, the gun man in that analogy is a bit like our emotions.
If you think about it, do we have a choice when our emotions come into our body? Did we invite them in?
Sarah: No, often not. And I’m thinking of right now when everybody’s really worried about the COVID. Some people are waking up like that, aren’t they? So, they’re definitely not inviting it in. It’s there when you wake up.
Kelvin: Certainly, it’s my experience. And from working with people, I see that. We’re just going about our day, we’re eating our breakfast, and then bang, we’re filled with this stomach turning over, or tightness in our chest, or we’re getting just filled with rage and anger. We don’t choose it. It just happens. So, I try to say to people, if we think of it like the gun man, what are you going to do? Are you going to take on the gun man and fight it, and resist it in some way?
Even if it’s a certain resistance, is that a good idea to resist the gun man? Or are we going to do our hands up and breathe approach? Which is literally as simple as that.
So, I get people to think about how much they’re surrendering in that moment, to the emotion that they’re experiencing. I will get them to show me on their hands. I’ll say, "Are you a 100% surrendering? Or are you 0% surrendering?" Which would be I’m not surrendering at all, really. I’m actually doing everything I can to try and not feel this. I want it out of my body. And then I get them to show me so that they’ll say, "Well, I’m sort of half surrendering, and I’m half fighting." So, then I might get them to show me that one hand is resisting one hand, so they’re at 50% surrender, 50% resist, and then I will just gently invite them to open their fingers and try to engage.
We’re just trying to engage the brain in the process of letting the feeling be rather than resisting their feelings.
Russ: Do you have to name the emotion?
Kelvin: Absolutely. That would be the first step. I would say to them, "What are you feeling? Can we just label it? Can we see where it is?" So, this is anger. This is in my chest. This is in my shoulders. And then it’s like, "Okay, now let’s put our hands up to that." I always label it to start with, and then we know what we’re putting our hands up to then.
Russ: Have you quantified this at all?
Kelvin: I haven’t yet, but I think it would be something I’d love to do, would be to monitor. I have hundreds and hundreds of testimonies, of people massively transforming. I’ve had people that have said they’ve had like a knot in their chest for 10 years, like a ball of energy or tension in their body, and after some minutes of really getting them to focus on this hands up approach, it started to soften, and then melt away. And then it’s just completely gone. And they’ve said,
Wow, I can actually breathe for the first time in 10 years. I feel like my chest is free.
The same with chronic pain.
Sarah: So why do you think that we are not able to deal with our emotions effectively?
Kelvin: I just think we haven’t been taught, really. I went to university. I was a competitive athlete.
I was in great shape physically. I was doing competitions every weekend in the UK. But it didn’t stop me from getting depressed and getting an anxiety condition.
I can honestly say now that I didn’t learn from my parents, how to manage my emotions. I didn’t learn from teachers in school, or college, or university. So where do we learn that? Where do we learn this stuff?
I would say probably 99% plus, of the population is blocking out, when it comes to their mental health.
Russ: I mean, not only blocking it, but they’re manifesting it in some sort of body issue?
I have worked with people in my practice that have been into self-help for a decade, and yet they come to me and they’re still in an absolute state. And when we look, they are still avoiding their emotions, and yet they’ve read all the books, and they can understand things on a mental level. But they’re not applying it. They’re not actually doing it.
Sarah: In biohacking there’s a lot of emphasis on performance, on longevity, on looking your best, being the top of your game and having the best business skills. Emotional health is not talked about, in fact it’s pushed aside.
Russ: I’m wondering when you look at trauma, that might be a little bit tougher to honor that, right? That might be difficult for people to put their hands up and release all control over trauma because it’s probably scary.
Kelvin: Yeah, for sure. If we look at what trauma is, it is just a mixture of emotions. There’s probably going to be lots of shame in there. There’s probably going to be fear in there. And if there’s not, there will be sadness. I talk about the big five emotions. I’m sure that within trauma, you’ve probably going to be ticking at least four of those big five emotions. Sadness, anxiety, anger, shame, and then the fifth one I talk about is excitement. If we’ve experienced a traumatic incident, then it’s ultimately a memory that’s tied up with all these big fiery emotions. We don’t know how to deal with that, so what do we do? We just push it away and drink it away, eat it away, whatever way we want to get rid of it.
Sarah: How do you deal with a big traumatic event?
Kelvin: My approach now is very consistent to when I’m working with people. I always start by what I call the basics and having conversations like we’re having now about, we all have emotions. These are the big five emotions that we have. And when we experience emotions, if we want to manage them in the healthiest possible way, then we must learn to do the hands up and breathe methods. And just slowly guiding them through that process. And just taking one emotion at a time, really, and starting to work through them. And so generally in my experience, the better that we become at managing our emotions, it doesn’t matter what our mental health problem is, or the diagnosis, really, it just drops away as we start to improve managing our emotions.
Of course, there are treatment protocols, specifically for trauma. If someone has PTSD, in CBT, we have a specific treatment protocol. But personally, I would still always start with those basics, increasing their awareness of what have they learned to do to manage their emotions so that they really clear in their understanding.
Oh, yeah, now I see. Yeah, now, that’s why I just keep reaching for the wine, or that’s why I keep scratching myself and self-harming.
Once they’ve joined those dots, and I’ve introduced a new method to them, they can hopefully start drawing upon that new method. And allowing that other method to be left and eventually us get the new pathway formed in the brain. And I’m sure you appreciate that the more we do something, the more it’s strengthens.
Sarah: I wonder if you could just give us like a couple of quick tips. What would you do if there is someone really annoying you? Like you feel that your emotion is not coming from you. What if you have got the manager from Hell?
Kelvin: I’m going to sound a bit repetitive again, but I would be trying to take myself off and maybe away from that person for a little bit and give myself some space from them. But then absolutely,
I want to be connecting into my body.
And as the rest would say, like trying to label. What is coming up or what is the emotion that’s being triggered here? Is it anger? Is it sadness? What is it? Or maybe it’s a mixture of emotions, and that’s okay. And so just really labeling them, and then spending a good bit of time to hands up and breathe through that feeling. And starting to see that, "Yes, although I am being triggered by this person, I do have a tool here, which I can use, and I can draw upon." And it will start to diffuse that emotion in the healthiest possible way. I don’t have to do all those other destructive things that I’ve been doing. This is this is a simple way.
So maybe, in answer to your question, what would I do if I’m being triggered by someone? Well, quite often, then there’s going to be anger. And in my experience, when we’ve got anger, there’s going to be ‘should’ statement. So, I’ve sat with the anger. I’ve done my hands up and breathe. And now I’m just noticing, what it that I’m thinking is. I’m just thinking he shouldn’t have said that to me. He should be speaking to me with more respect. Whatever ‘should’ is, and I would just be trying to capture that. And personally, I write it down on some paper, and then I would use the approach of examining it and questioning it. The Byron Katie method of questioning your statement. Is that really true? So if it was, he shouldn’t be speaking to me that way.
Maybe if I really sit with that, I can see, this is somebody that’s not managing their emotions very effectively either.
They are lashing out at me because they haven’t learned how to manage their emotions properly. And so actually, I’m seeing now when I’m really sitting with it and examining it, that he should be speaking to me in that way because he doesn’t yet have the skills to be any different.
Russ: Yeah, I find that now we’re going to be walking over to people as they’re triggered and just saying, "Put your hands up. Take your time. Let this anger pass." That’s going to be my new technique at work. I’m going to say, "Oh, I’m acknowledging your anger. Why don’t you put your hands up for a few minutes because I’m not going to attach to it?"
Kelvin: You may get a fist in your face if you do that!
The best way to teach this technique when someone is in a calm state rather than when they are in a triggered state or in an emotional state.
I get a lot of parents asking me, how to do this with children, and I would say exactly that. Don’t try and teach them the hands up method when they’re in the middle of a tantrum. Teach them when they’re calm, and they’re relaxed, and they can take it in more. And then when they are having a tantrum, you can then just prompt them, "Hands up and breathe now. Is it time for you to do some hands up and breathe method?"
Russ: Thank you so much, Kelvin. Thank you for helping so many people, and helping us, and helping our listeners.
Kelvin: Well, thank you for having me on. I hope it’s helped your listeners.
🚨 7 DAY CHALLENGE 🚨
Sarah: Have you been putting your hands up Russ? Have you been doing your hands up therapy?
We talk about neurotech and all these fancy things you can buy and do but Kelvin has developed a very simple technique, and a way to deal with overwhelming emotions. I can’t recommend this enough. It’s just so easy and simple.
Russ: I thoroughly enjoyed talking to Kelvin and I would like to talk to him more separately.
We recommend clicking below - and trying this simple emotion hack for yourselves.
Hands Up In Practice