When we are feeling overwhelmed emotionally, physically or psychologically our minds, emotions, bodies and nervous systems need soothing. This oftentimes come up during times of high or continued stress (e.g., when we are having conflict with our partners, and we feel flooded - and we are starting to go into a fight or flight response).
It is not helped by our 'always on' culture where oftentimes there are expectations that we have to be present and connected 24/7 - any time for idleness has been replaced by a feeling that we need to be doing something at all times - to be productive. Stepping back and looking at what really matters can help us focus on the important things.
And what really matters is YOU. It is important to recognise that self-care is fundamental to putting your best self forward. It is about the basics - eating well, sleeping well, exercising, maintaining health social connections and developing routine. This about healing yourself and feeding your soul, particularly when your cup is bone-dry, and you feel you have nothing left to give. In the metaphor of the safety instructions given on a plane - this is about putting your oxygen mask on first, so that you can then help/support others. You are no good to others if your self-care is de-prioritised. So, this is about putting yourself first, looking at how you are spending your time and energy, showing up for yourself and demonstrating self-kindness and self-love. Modelling this to significant others, including children, will also demonstrate to them that we are all worthy, and that we don't need to feel any guilt about making sure that we look after ourselves.
By self-soothing we can help to calm our nervous systems and regulate our emotions - soothe our anxieties and stress, and move our bodies out of fight/flight by completing the stress response cycle all the way from "I am at risk" to where the message is "I am safe". Using your breath - always free and on hand when you need it - is a great way - through deep breathing - to help you calm down. Mindfulness is also fantastic to soothe and center us so that we feel grounded in the here and now - many of the techniques listed below incorporates mindfulness and hygge (cosiness). It can also be helpful to do something more active - for example, if this happens during an argument with your partner, you can ask for a time-out, and so something that takes your mind off the argument (like going for a walk, listening to music etc). A lot of people find it helpful to do something that is engaging their mind first in a more active way, before transitioning to something that is soothing. This list of tips (by no means exhaustive and in no particular order) has been compiled to spark your imagination for things that you can do to self-soothe, self-care and enrich your life. The criteria should be that the activity you choose is constructive.
34 Tips for Self-Soothing, Self-Care and Enriching your Life
1. Create space when overwhelmed - mindfulness can help cultivate self-awareness. Take time out to just be still with no defined goal or agenda. Block time out in your diary to be. Consider a 'not to do' list to break habits that are not serving you.
Regular moments of "mental white space" reduce the anxiety of feeling overwhelmed - Laurie Cameron, The Mindful Day
2. Use music to shift your mood - listen mindfully giving it your full attention - soothing music can be particularly useful to help you feel calmer. Create a playlist with your favourites and look up more information about the artists. Explore new songs, or songs in a foreign language.
3. Physical activity and Exercise - going for a walk, run, swim, bike ride, sport, class or gym workout. The rhythmic practice of walking meditation is mindfulness in motion - as you are moving become aware of each foot making contact with the earth. This can also be combined with listening to music, podcasts or audiobooks. Explore a new type of physical activity - in a class, online, outside, with others. Explore and take up a new sport or join a club. Dance and move your body in fun ways. Build in incidental activity on the regular - park your car further when you go to the shops, take the stairs, walk the dog. Move every hour if you have a sedentary lifestyle.
4. 54321 Grounding technique (see insert) This can help anchor us in the present. Take a moment to become mindful of your breath. Just a few deep breaths invite your body back into the moment, slowing everything down. Then, become aware of your environment and go through the 54321 Grounding Technique. Repeat as is necessary and notice how you feel afterwards.
5. Progressive muscle relaxation - tense and release particular muscles one-by-one. This exercise helps release physical tension in the body. One example is the described by the Gottman's here.
6. Yoga - with deep breathing principles and gentle stretching this is a great way to connect to your body, calm and soothe yourself, and also make space for the uncomfortable. Make sure you select a gentle form of yoga, listen to your body and don't push yourself beyond your limits. Tip - the free 'Downward Dog' app has a Restorative type of yoga which is great for beginners and you can do this from the comfort of your home. Consider chair yoga if you are more limited physically or for an additional type of movement.
7. Deep breathing. This can take many forms and there are many free videos on youtube. One such technique is Belly Breathing:
Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position
Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest
Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out
Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling
Repeat 5 to 10 times or until you feel a sense of calm
An alternate technique is Box Breathing - for each quadrant count to four: breathe in, hold, breath out, hold.
8. The gentle hand self-compassion - place a gentle hand on your body where you feel fear or discontent - often this is over your heart or your tummy - close your eyes and breathe deeply. Soothing words or affirmations in keeping with what you want to hear at that moment can be helpful (e.g., I am OK, I am safe and well, I am doing the best I can and that is OK, this too shall pass etc.).
9. Put on some comfortable clothes - some people enjoy warming it up in the dryer first.
10. Take a shower or bath - incorporating candles, your favourite scents, Epsom salts and bath oils can add additional relaxation properties.
11. Get out in nature - grounding yourself in greenery is a well-known relaxation and soother. If you are short on time or its not the right time of day a guided forest meditation, seascape or other nature sounds can be found on youtube or many relaxation apps.
12. Rhythmic activities - knitting, crocheting, swimming, dancing, drumming, making music - all of these can help us feel calmer.
13. Play, or learn to play, a musical instrument.
14. Wrapping yourself in a warm or weighted blanket can feel very comforting and soothing.
15. Engage in hobbies or taking up new hobbies and interests - gardening, creating, painting, crafting, cooking, music, a new class, video games, new social networks, reading, podcasts, history, theatre, movies, art galleries, watching a sports match, joining a club.
16. Sit in the warm sun for 15 mins. Feels its rays play on your skin. Notice when it goes behind the clouds. Take in the scents and sounds of nature, the earthiness, the fragrant flowers, the scurrying of insects and the birdsong.
17. Pets are great de-stressors - sit, pat, talk to, play with or walk pets.
18. Cook with your senses and savour eating. Try a new recipe or food from a different culture
19. Journaling - this can be a great outlet for your feelings and place to purge your anxieties. You can use it to explore your feelings, write gratitude lists, note the good or bad parts of your day, write down your thoughts, write down your dreams and self-reflect. There are no rules - you can write in short phrases or bullet points. Once you have kept a journal for while you might want to look back and see if there are some common themes repeating. What is the lesson in these themes?
20. Reading - immerse yourself in a good book. Consider reading something from a different, unfamiliar genre. Join a book club online or in person.
21. Watch funny videos, uplifting shows, comedy, or movies.
22. Sit with your difficult emotions - don't try to push them away - often accepting and moving through them is less scary than we think, and can bring catharsis.
23. Use affirmations and soothing words - be kind to yourself.
24. Meditation and Mindfulness apps (e.g., ACT iCoach app). There are many Meditation apps (e.g., Insight Timer app - Tip - try Yoga Nidra for relaxation and restful sleep) as well as Guided meditation videos/ Self-hypnosis apps (e.g., (HypnoBox app)/ Sleep apps (e.g., Calm app). There are so many apps geared to this - some of this is trial and error until you find one that works for you (and a voice you find soothing).
25. Picture your favourite place and immerse yourself in that mental space. Or picture the voice or face of someone you love (or the unconditional love of a pet).
27. Savour your favourite scents - scented candles, diffusers with essential oils, aromatherapy. What and when do these scents evoke?
28. Touch a soothing object - a flat stone or crystal - carry it with you - when you need it take it out, feel its weight in your hand, feels its texture, feel the sensation in your hand.
29. Ground yourself - push your feet into the ground, grass or sand if you are at the beach. Feel the textures beneath you, wiggle your toes into it, feel the solidity of the earth beneath you and its steadiness.
30. Sip or savour a cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate. Let it linger in your mouth and on your tongue. Feel its warmth soothing your body.
31. Create order - consider organising your space, drawers, your closets, your pantry, books. Organise it in manner pleasing to you - by colour, type, size, alphabet etc. Get rid of things that don't bring you joy (a la Marie Kondo) or no longer serve you. Organise your budget - income and expenses - and consider your long-term financial goals. Create to-do lists and cross them off feeling a sense of satisfaction as you go.
32. Bring colour and beauty to your life - make, buy, decorate and curate colourful and beautiful things around you - fresh flowers, plants, paintings, pictures, sounds, art/craft/collectables displays, in your home and through your furnishings, but also in your workspace, clothes and mode of transport. Get creative!
33. Learn new things - we thrive on novel content. Read books, listen to content experts in podcasts, online or Ted Talks. Learn a new language. Take a creative class - online or in person - cooking, pottery, art, paint and sip, candle making, preserving, survival skills etc. Learn about something new - psychology, biology, health, art, artists, history, politics, religion, other cultures, science, economics, animals, the universe. A small hack - take a different route from your usual route and see what you discover.
34. Constructively worry - this can help if you mind is keeping you awake at night. Constructive worrying is a method for managing the tendency to worry during that quiet time when sleep is supposed to be taking over. During the early evening (at least 2 hours before bed) take about fifteen minutes to do - it helps you get clear on your concerns as well as potential solutions.
Remember to preserve a calm soul amid difficulties - Horace
Disclaimer: This post is for informational and educational purposes only. It should not be taken as counselling/therapy advice or used as a substitute for such. You should always speak to your own counsellor.