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6 Self-Soothing Techniques For When You Feel Overwhelmed or Anxious

“A combination of fine tea, enchanting objects and soothing surroundings exerts a therapeutic effect by washing away the corrosive strains and stress of modern life. [... It] induces a mood that is spiritually refreshing [and produces] a genial state of mind.”

John Blofeld, The Chinese Art of Tea

Hello Hello beloved,,

Welcome to the issue on Mental Health Resources, Self-Soothing.

In the following months we will focus on techniques and tools to support your mental wellbeing.

The last few weeks have seen a lot of changes in my life. I moved out of my cosy studio after 6 years, into a spacious 2 bedroom apartment with sunshine streaming through every room.

Last week was also the end of 6 years at a non-for-profit organisation that I joined as a counselling student.

Even though both experiences are considered major life changes and can be very stressful, I experienced literally no stress from the move, while leaving my part-time job caused an intense emotional reaction.

I was not emotionally attached to the move. I was in no pressure to move. I trusted the process and intuitively knew that the right place would show up at the right time, therefore the whole process was smooth with minimal impact on my emotional state.

On the other hand I felt a lot of distress around leaving my part-time job. From the moment I made the decision that I had outgrown this role and I identified that I was hiding by staying in it, the fear and anxiety surfaced. I can honesty say that I experienced some level of anxiety, self-doubt and fear on a daily basis despite using all the wellness tools I teach and practice.

A few weeks ago I completed an insightful training on trauma called COMPLEX TRAUMA: KEY POINTS AND `MUST KNOWS’ facilitated by Pam Stavropoulos. I learnt so much from this 3 hour workshop and the most practical information I took away was the need for therapists to resource clients by teaching them self-soothing techniques.

This may sound basic and it is something I do naturally in my practice. What I realised in the training, was that I was not applying the self-soothing techniques to myself. I was going through the motions of self-care but not consciously soothing the part of me that was in distress.

'Self-soothing' refers to any behaviour a person uses to regulate their emotional state by themselves. Self-soothing is how we calm our bodies when we are overloaded by stress or overwhelming emotions.

Self-soothing behaviours are often developed in the early years of life, are repetitive/habitual in nature, and were soothing and comforting when we were children or an adolescence.

Therefore self-soothing techniques will be unique to each person as it usually relates to our childhood experience of receiving comfort and feeling safe.

With a history of abandonment, security is a big trigger for me. I intellectually understood why my nervous system went into distress because there was a threat that I would loose the stability and safety of this regular job and income. This job represented safety, security, and certainty for me. Whereas running my own business was a free flow of uncertainty, plus the trauma from my past business experience was activated.

There will come a time for all of us when life is painful, stressful, fearful and overwhelming. Even though we can reach out to a loved one or seek therapy, emotional maturity and wellness requires that we are able to self sooth by meeting our emotional needs when we are distressed, ourselves.

It's important for therapists to offer their clients resources to manage their emotional states between sessions. It's easy for you to feel comforted or safe within a therapy session but what about the times between sessions?

A good therapist will eventually become redundant to their client as they empower their clients to use tools and awareness from the sessions to eventually live a happy and emotionally independent life.

Below are some of the self-soothing tools that I've used for myself and shared in my therapy sessions.

6 Ways to Self-Soothe When Stressed or Overwhelmed

1. Speak to yourself in a gentle and compassionate way

Our self-talk plays a big part in creating negative emotions so the first place I would start is becoming aware of and changing negative, critical or harsh self-talk.

I Imagine myself sitting on a ledge wanting to jump off and I use soothing words to calm myself down. I Tell myself that I love me. I remind myself of some of the good things in my life and remember some of the people who I love and who love me.

I also create a positive affirmation that I repeat over and over again and when I say it, I can feel a shift in my mood.

Psychologist Larry Shushanksy agrees that words or phrases that help shift you to a calmer state are like having the right tools for a job. He recommends that you repeat the word or phrase periodically throughout the day during stressful and non-stressful times; it will likely bring you a sense of calm.

2. Putting yourself in a nurturing environment

It's important for us to be in spaces we feel safe in when we're feeling distressed. This could be a safe home, a safe room or even a safe corner. If you can't make the whole home or workplace a safe space, create a special spot in your home or work that is your safe space. A place that you go to when you need emotional regulation or comfort.

Put something special like a candle, a book, a soft toy, a picture of a loved one in this space. Add anything that signifies safety or comfort to you.

3. Creating a safe container

Creating a safe container can feel similar to number 2 but the difference is making the body a safe container. We take our body everywhere we go so making the body a safe container can mean that we can feel safe anywhere we are.

Great ways to create the body as a safe container is through breathing exercises, body scans, stroking ,tapping and hugging the body.

Doing this gives you the sense of the boundary of the body and a feeling that all your experiences are within the body and therefore manageable.

If you've experienced physical or sexual abuse, you may need some support before your body is a safe space. Be gentle and take this process slowly or leave it out.

4. Meeting your basic care needs

When people are distressed they tend to neglect their basic needs for nourishment, exercise, self-care, financial responsibility and connection. This just escalates the feelings of anxiety and being overwhelmed.

Making a list of basic things you can do each day and following through, can be a grounding and self-soothing activity. As you move through your list you may find your feelings of anxiety and overwhelm reducing.

5. Accepting where you are without needing to fix you

I like to think of emotions as energy in motion. They come in, and if we allow ourself to experience the feelings without resistance, they tend to move through us and transform quickly. The main reason many of us experience intense emotions are because we resist or try to run away from our emotions. So self-soothing can look like using the above tools and allowing yourself to surrender into the intense feelings while breathing and holding onto yourself.

6. Create a self soothing box

Create a self-soothing box. This can be a box filled with special items that brings you a sense of wellbeing, makes you feel happy and calm. I keep my box under my altar where I meditate each morning so it has a special significance for me and easily accessible.

If you're unable to create your own self-soothing box,I've shared a link below to purchase one.

The above is just a short list of self-soothing tools. I will be sharing more in the following newsletters and across social media. I would also be interested in hearing some of the techniques that you use.

Psychologist Rachael Walden concludes that, "self-soothing is an imperative tool for everyone to master. It’s the ability to calm oneself in the face of stress, anxiety and panic.

Much like a parent soothes and comforts a distressed child, in self-soothing we “parent” ourselves.

Relying on others to give comfort can let us down. Sometimes they are not available. Sometimes they do not properly understand our needs".

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