There are healthy and unhealthy forms of self-soothing. Think about escapist self-soothing behaviors. How many times have we consumed a bowl of ice cream, had a glass of wine or bought a new pair of shoes, just to end up feeling unfulfilled and craving more? We continue having cravings because self indulgence doesn’t give us the type of soothing we need to settle our emotions. This type of self indulgence is a distraction. (It’s like getting a rebound boyfriend/girlfriend after a bad break-up). It comes with a cost — guilt, stress, addiction — you get the picture.
However, healthy self-soothing is a deeply restorative self-care practice we can use to hold difficult emotions and move through them. It can reduce the intensity of our feelings, calming our nervous system and creating the emotional and mental space for us to be able to process our fears more peacefully and objectively. When we’re able to nurture ourselves into a state of emotional ease — the emotional overwhelm releases.
Figure out what works for you. Self-soothing isn’t a one size fits all strategy.What is soothing for me in any given situation, isn’t necessarily the same thing that will soothe you. Self-soothing activities often engage our senses and require intentional thought and action. Some examples of healthy self-soothing practices include:
- Drinking a cup of tea
- Petting a cat/dog
- Smelling a scented candle
- Resting on a soft blanket
- Physically giving yourself a hug
- Taking a long warm shower or bath
- Listening to your favorite music
- Watching or being in nature
Whatever you choose, be sure it’s nurturing. Be intentional about using it to help ground and calm your emotions.
Deep breathing and self-talk are two helpful self-soothing techniques that I felt needed a special spotlight.
- Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to our brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system — promoting a state of calmness. To put it more simply, it diffuses tension, helping us assess situations more objectively.
- We can also actually talk our way into a new perspective and state of emotional wellbeing by reframing our thoughts. Here are some examples of a few truths that can be used during self-talk: Feelings aren’t facts. Everyone makes mistakes. This too will pass.
So when you seek to self soothe, remember to be self-nurturing instead of self-indulgent. At the end of the day, drinking a cup of tea or practicing deep breathing isn’t going to make the source of your emotional distress go away, but it can cultivate the emotional and mental space to address it or, if needed, withstand it. When you have de-escalated your emotions, you can gain enough perspective to identify your next move.
In short, self soothing turns down the pressure valve so we can choose how we respond to stressful triggers and situations. Our bodies are trained to go into fight, flight or freeze mode. But we can interrupt that pattern. By soothing ourselves, we can move out of reaction mode and choose how we want to respond to our circumstances.
It’s worked for me. Give it a try today.