Self-soothing is one of the most effective tools we have to get through the most painful and scary moments in life. While these techniques do not solve any problems for us, they do help us manage the fear and anxiety that prevent us from taking action. Self-soothing is also crucial for a variety of mental health reasons.
We all struggle with anxiety from time to time. Even though it’s uncomfortable, it’s a natural and sometimes useful sensation. It helps us feel when something is wrong or dangerous long before we figure it out logically. If all is well with our natural anxiety response, the bad feeling shouldn’t stick around. Anxiety is supposed to subside soon after we remove ourselves from the sketchy situation or solve the problem.
For most people, anxiety and panic attacks are rare occurrences which are stressful, but not major life problems. Unfortunately though, for many of us that’s not the case. Nearly 1 out of every 5 Americans struggle with chronic, heightened anxiety that doesn’t go away even when the danger has passed.
What can you do?
Soothe your senses
If you’re having a hard time dealing with recurrent anxiety and overwhelming emotions, let me share how to literally ‘calm your nerves (and senses!)’ whenever possible. Whenever you ever find yourself feeling out-of-control, start out by taking a deep breath. After that, you can gather your thoughts and arm yourself with a self soothing tactic below and move past the anxiety to get back to normal. Here are some examples of how to self-soothe through each of the senses…
Oh what do I see?
For anxiety that follows us home and just won’t let up, this is the tool we need. Walking through nature is deeply relaxing and quickly alleviates an anxious mood. Go to a pretty spot in nature or a local park. Look at photos of beautiful artwork or go to a museum to see them in person. Buy or pick some flowers and put them where you will see them often in your home or office. Watch a video of your favorite nature scenery.
So, if you’re feeling stuck in an anxious, tense mood, put your walking shoes on and get outside and watch your worries float away.
Feelin’ pretty fine
Sometimes, we just need to do something to release all of that anxious energy. Working on something with our hands is self-soothing because it is an excellent distraction from our racing thoughts. Repetitive, easy tasks can help distract us from the issue and stop the negative thought cycle.
Hand distractions are a great self-soothing tool for anyone feeling anxious. Learn to knit, play an instrument, or draw. If you want to add tactile sensations on an extra level consider these: take a warm bath or shower, wear soft, comfortable clothes, cuddle a furry friend, snuggle in a soft blanket, use a heated pad, or even just go outside and feel the breeze on your skin. Color in a coloring book. I have a mandala coloring book that I ‘zen out’ with that helps keep my hands busy.
Make a sound
Research shows that humming can improve airflow between the sinuses and the nasal cavity. This, in turn, gives you greater access to breathing. As stated above when you can breathe deeply you feel more relaxed. Humming creates turbulence in the air, which pushes it out more forcefully than quiet breathing. Humming also plays a role in certain meditation practices. Many yoga practitioners use a breathwork technique called “the bee.” It’s exactly what you’d expect. Lots of controlled breaths through sealed lips. On each exhale, the person makes a humming sound similar to a bee buzzing. This technique is often recommended for calming the mind and relieving stress.
Next time you get stressed, try humming your favorite song for 20 seconds. See if you feel better. In fact, there’s no better way to calm your mind and boost your spirits than by humming a happy tune. If that fails try to listen to calming music such or sounds such as the ocean or other nature sounds. Listen to a cat purr. Stamp your feet. Beat rhythmically on a “drum” if you have the right tools.
Whatever the obstacle is, you should try your best to overcome it.
Is that soulrenity I smell?
Inhaling certain scented oil molecules is said to transmit messages to a brain region involved in controlling emotions. Known as the limbic system, this brain region also influences the nervous system.
Aromatherapy proponents suggest that essential oils may affect a number of biological factors, including heart rate, stress levels, blood pressure, breathing, and immune function. Some of these scents are often touted as a natural remedy for stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, menstrual cramps and menopausal symptoms. Some even supposedly act as an aphrodisiac.
When you do feel anxiety creeping in, consider getting a whiff of something soothing and fragrant like an essential oil or scented candle. Try a calming scent like lavender, orange, jasmine, or vanilla. Sniff a cologne or perfume your enjoy. Cook a fragrant meal or bake something yummy.
If there’s a particular smell that puts you in a happy place, find it to harness its positive vibes.
That taste delightful!
We’ve all probably heard the science stating eating dark chocolate can help reduce levels of cortisol and catecholamines (hormones associated with stress), especially for those with high anxiety. Remember, go easy. Chocolate is calorically dense-eating too much can pack on the pounds and that can lead to more stress.
Something as simple as enjoying some seasonal fruit for the texture can be a chocolate alternative. Chewing gum or sucking boiled sweets. Sip herbal tea, such as chamomile. Drink hot cocoa. Suck on a lollipop or mint. Savor a piece of chocolate. Enjoy a delicious meal.
There’s so very much we love to taste. Find what satisfies you.
When do you use these skills?
Use these skills anytime you like! When you self-soothe you treat yourself with compassion, kindness, and care – similar to the way a good parent treats an upset child. Self-soothing has been shown to build resilience by making it easier to bounce back from difficult times. Times when we may experience stress from a major life event, like losing a job or relationship, or when we have painful or overwhelming emotions are all common.
Don’t worry about feeling awkward, guilty, or ashamed doing self-soothing activities (I know I did at first). We have been conditioned to believe some of the things that can help us the most are childish in practice. Which can’t be true because taking charge of our mental health and deliberately confronting our emotions is a very mature thing to do.
If you want to benefit from self-soothing, it’s important to challenge and overcome any beliefs that prevent you from practicing it.
Be open and experiment with all the senses. Try self-soothing through different senses and a variety of activities. Remain aware of the present moment and the effect the sensations are having on you. If you’d like you can try to create entire “self-soothing experiences” that use several senses at once. For example, take a scented bubble bath with lit candles, sip a drink while using a face mask and listening to soft music, or go for a relaxing brisk walk in cool breeze.
Don’t be emotionally “hijacked,” (lose control of parts of your brain that control rational thinking have shut down and you aren’t able to think straight) when you are behind the wheel of wellness.
Self-soothing is a powerful tool for tolerating distress. If you’re looking for ways to get through difficulties without resorting to behaviors that will cause more trouble, it’s a valuable skill to master – so make yourself a cup of tea, put on some soothing sounds, light a candle or two, and try it out. You might be surprised by what soothes you.