Tiana Leeds, LMFT, offers counseling in downtown Santa Barbara for individuals, couples, and families. While she focuses primarily on working with young women and highly sensitive people, she welcomes clients of all ages, genders, and backgrounds.
Self-soothing is a strategy that helps you to cope with overwhelming negative emotions or intolerable situations. Self-soothing strategies take a lot of practice, but as you get the hang of using some of these techniques, you will see your relationship to the negative emotions and intolerable feelings change. You will find some things work better than others for you. You may also find that some things don't work at first, but with time and practice you will see some results.
Some of us may recognize these techniques as things we already use, but many of us have never learned how to self-soothe, how to do those often simple things that makes us feel better. These are mostly very physical techniques that use different body senses. Some of us have never had the feeling that we could do things to make ourselves feel better, calmer, or more relaxed. I urge you to experiment with these techniques until you find some that are comfortable and helpful for you. When you find these, practice them. Use them when you are feeling distressed, when emotions feel overwhelming, when situations feel like you can't stand them anymore. Instead of doing something that hurts you, try something that gives you pleasure and comfort.
SELF-SOOTHING has to do with comforting, nurturing and being kind to yourself. One way to think of this is to think of ways of soothing each of your five senses:
Walk in a pretty part of town. Look at the nature around you. Go to a museum with beautiful art. Buy a flower and put it where you can see it. Sit in a garden. Watch the waves crash against the sand. Light a candle and watch the flame. Look at a book with beautiful scenery or beautiful art. Watch a travel movie or video.
Listen to beautiful or soothing music, or to recordings of the ocean or other calming sounds. Listen to a baby cooing or a small animal. Sit by a waterfall or fountain. Listen to someone chopping wood. When you are listening, be mindful, letting the sounds come and go.
Smell breakfast being cooked at home or in a restaurant. Notice all the different smells around you. Walk in a garden or in nature and breathe in the smells around you. Light a scented candle or use essential oils. Bake some bread or a cake and take in all the smells.
Have a special treat, and eat it slowly, savoring each bite. Cook a favorite meal. Drink a soothing drink like herbal tea or hot cocoa. Let the taste run over your tongue and slowly down your throat. Go to a potluck, and eat a little bit of each dish, mindfully tasting each new thing.
Pet your dog or cat or cuddle a baby. Put on a silk shirt or blouse and feel its softness and smoothness. Take a bath or hot shower. Sink into a really comfortable bed or curl up under a cozy blanket. Float or swim in a pool or the ocean and feel the water caress your body.
Many of us may feel like we don't deserve these comforts and may find it hard to give pleasure to ourselves in this way. Do you have these feelings? Some of us may also expect this soothing to come from other people, or not want to do it for ourselves. Have you experienced this feeling?
You may feel guilty about allowing yourself to luxuriate in this way. It may take some practice to allow yourself to experience these pleasures. These are really simple human pleasures that everyone has a right to, and that will give you some good tools to use when you are feeling bad.
Try at least one of these self-soothing exercises this week. You may want to choose a whole group of things, say a number of the visual things, or you may want to choose a single exercise to try. As you do what you have chosen, do it mindfully. Breathe gently, and try to be fully in the experience, whether it is walking in nature, looking at a flower, of smelling fresh-baked cookies.
As you begin to overcome your feelings that perhaps you do not deserve this and start to enjoy one or more of these activities, you will be learning very useful tools to help you deal with negative feelings and difficult situations.
The Basics of Mindfulness Practice
Mindfulness helps us put some space between ourselves and our reactions, breaking down our conditioned responses. Here’s how to tune into mindfulness throughout the day:
That’s the practice. It’s often been said that it’s very simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. The work is to just keep doing it. Results will accrue.
This meditation focuses on the breath, not because there is anything special about it, but because the physical sensation of breathing is always there and you can use it as an anchor to the present moment. Throughout the practice you may find yourself caught up in thoughts, emotions, sounds—wherever your mind goes, simply come back again to the next breath. Even if you only come back once, that’s okay.
Click on the video below to see Brene Brown's powerful speech on the power of vulnerability.
Books from Brene Brown
Brene Brown's work helps us learn to get out of our own way and find joy in the journey of becoming more fully ourselves. She has written a number of powerful books including Daring Greatly, Rising Strong, and the Gifts of Imperfection.