Let’s say you have a rough interaction with someone, a disappointing outcome, or you get bad news–what do you do to help yourself feel better?
Do you have a couple of drinks? Maybe smoke a little weed? Or eat a tub of ice cream? No judgment here, but I want to invite you to think about it because many of us confuse self-numbing with self-soothing.
In this video, you’ll learn my favorite self-soothing tips, healthy ways to support your nervous system and emotional wellbeing, plus how to create your own self-soothing and stress relief toolkit.
Learning how to effectively self-soothe can be life-changing!
Prefer the audio? Listen here.
Self-soothing is a strategy to regulate our emotions when they have been disrupted. It can be an action or a few simple actions we take to regain homeostasis and get ourselves back into equilibrium after emotional disruptions.
I think most of us are pretty darn good at helping to soothe the ones we love, but when it comes to ourselves, it can be hard to put into words what we’re feeling and what we need…especially in an activated or heated moment.
That’s why getting proactive and thinking through steps you can take to self-soothe ahead of time is such a powerful way to care for yourself. Especially if you tend to reach for the Ben and Jerry’s or the Pinot Noir when you’re upset, having a tool kit to self-soothe ready to go can help to curb self-numbing behaviors.
I realized the power of self-soothing when I started my private psychotherapy practice (wow, 25 years ago! 👀). From the beginning, I always created a soothing sensory experience in my treatment room – beautiful smelling candles, twinkle lights, and a quiet, tranquil space. I would usually end with an on-the-spot guided meditation associated with the content of what we were talking about in that session.
I also worked with calming essential oils, so during our sessions, I would have my clients breathe in lavender or bergamot and then give them some to take home and keep with them, asking them to use the oils to calm themselves if they were feeling anxious or in a distressing situation.
Repeatedly, the feedback I received from my clients was that this simple technique, of using the olfactory memory to tap back into the physical calm they experienced in my office, worked amazingly well. Clients were able to de-escalate and soothe themselves using a few drops of essential oil on their hands and some deep breathing for 20 seconds.
What we know, dating all the way back to Pavlov’s discovery of classical conditioning from his experiments with dogs at the turn of the century, is that the body remembers. With some mindful training, our 5 senses can help us bring back positive experiences and emotions in difficult moments and restore us to our center.
This is the power of self-soothing, and even if this is all new to you- it is possible to learn to support yourself and take action to help regulate your emotions and nervous system, no matter what life throws at you.
Here are some of my favorite ways to self-soothe:
- Change up Your Surroundings- In a stressful situation when something dramatic or traumatic happens, you might feel frozen. Just leaving the room to take a break or get outside, even for just a few minutes to walk around the block or get out in nature for even 5 minutes to take some deep breaths, can be soothing and help to reset your nervous system.
- Moving Your Body + Energy Work – If you are able, moving your body in any way can help move negative energy and emotions out. Can you put on a song and dance it out?
One of my very favorite tools is my friend Lara Riggio’s energy work. She’s an energy medicine expert and someone who contributes to all of my courses because her work is so complimentary to mental wellness work! Inside the guide, I’ve included one of her quick, easy energy exercises to relax your body and mind. I keep it saved on my phone so I have access to it whenever I need it!
- Take a Warm Bath or Shower – One of my go-to self-soothing practices, since I was a child, is taking a warm bath. If baths aren’t your thing, a shower can do wonders to refresh and reset you.
For me, there is something transportive about taking a bath- I make a ritual out of it, adding beautiful bath salts, lighting candles, and turning the lights down. I try to engage all my senses in a soothing way. Try it and see if you emerge calmer than when you went in!
- Do a Short Guided Meditation- If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I have a dedicated daily meditation practice and have created many guided meditations for you. But for me, listening to my own voice when I’m trying to reset is a little weird, so I turn to one of my dearest pals and meditation teacher, Davidji. He has a beautiful soothing voice and an 8-minute meditation I use as a resource often when my nerves are feeling frayed.
- Simple Breathing Exercises – When we are stressed, there are physiological symptoms that breathing exercises can help relieve. Deep, measured breathing can put the break on the release of the stress hormone cortisol and slow a rapid heartbeat.
I love using the Breathe app because it is so simple to follow. It doesn’t require me to do a lot of thinking or for me to be very present because in a moment when I am out of equilibrium, I don’t have the capacity to problem-solve. I need something that I can lean on that works and for me, this does.
- Discover and Share Your Soothing Language– Dive into the inquiry of what soothes you. For me, silence is soothing among other things so if I need soothing and Vic has music on, I ask him to turn it off and because I have shared what soothes me with him- he understands and complies. It can be so helpful to share your soothing preferences with your loved ones, your partner, and your friends, and to ask them to share with you in return! We are all so different, and what soothes you might not soothe another. Think of it almost like the five love languages. Each of us has a unique way of feeling and receiving love, and I find it to be the same with soothing.
Physical touch is one of my primary love languages and it absolutely soothes me when I’m upset. For my husband, Vic, whose love language is quality time, just being with him helps. If he’s upset or dysregulated, I can say something like, “Hey, do you wanna take a ride or go on an adventure and we can talk about this in the truck?” It helps almost every time.
Have these conversations with your partner, your friends, or with those you love when you are both in a calm state, so if and when the shit hits the fan, you will know how to help soothe one another.
But as always, start with you! Inside this week’s guide, you’ll learn how to create your own self-soothing and stress relief tool kit, so you can proactively support yourself and begin to master the art of self-soothing.
If you do create your toolkit, please share it with me here in the comments or connect with me on Instagram @terricole – I would love to know what soothes your mind, body, and soul.
Remember to be compassionate with yourself, have a beautiful week, and as always, take care of you.