Some people never learn how to soothe themselves. I used to be one of them.
After I moved to a new city to pursue my college degree, I did not know how to handle all the emotions by myself. I really missed my friends. As someone who was born and raised in one city her entire life, I had no idea about how to take care of myself. I entirely depended on my friend’s hugs and words of comfort throughout college to soothe myself when I was overwhelmed by strong emotions.
I never learned how to make myself feel better.
After a few months of failed coping strategies and hating the new city for none of its faults, I stumbled upon a blog article about the concept of self-soothing in adults. It sparked my interest and I went on to read all I could find on the internet for this topic.
In my exploration, I came across several techniques that work really well for regulating your emotions and soothing the over-arousal.
1. Take a long shower
As unusual as this might sound, a research article has shown that taking a shower can play a detrimental role in washing away your pain and discomfort. The authors of the article, Spike W.S. Lee and Norbert Schwarz have quoted that “the bodily experience of removing physical residues can provide the basis of removing more abstract mental residues.”
In another study, it was seen that people are more likely to take a hand wipe as a gift when asked to judge themselves for moral wrongdoing they committed in the past.
These findings suggest that there exists a parallel between physical and moral contamination. Just like you want to clean yourself after touching something dirty, you want to clean your body for moral transgression as well.
Take a hot shower. To add to the comfort, add bath salts and fresh smelling body wash and cleaning products.
When you will walk out of the shower, smelling, and feeling clean, you’re likely to feel better about past wrongdoings and mistakes. It’s like making a new start.
To soothe yourself, you don’t just need to engage your visual and tactile cues.
This review of researches has suggested the role of smell in positive alteration of cognition, mood, and social behavior. When EEG was used, it was found that fragrances brought a change in the activities of different brain waves as well as states. Another research showed the role of fragrances in bringing down the levels of stress and negative mood.
Aromatherapy has been described as “a natural and noninvasive gift of nature for humans.”
Identify the fragrances that uplift your mood and spend the mornings smelling them. For instance, walk in the park and breathe in the smell of the flowers and trees. I really love smelling the morning breakfast and cookies being baked in the kitchen.
You can also light a candle with a lavender smell.
This is my favorite way to soothe myself. Research has shown evidence for positive self-talk working for stress and anxiety. In a study, daily imagery-based self-talk exercises led to a lowering of depression and shame within a week. Neurobiology has supported the claim.
After moving away from home, self-talk turned into my favorite thing to do. in retrospect, it really helped me deal with my conflicted feelings and negative emotions.
This is based on the Self-Compassion Break by Kristin Neff.
Take the situation causing conflict in your mind.
- Acknowledge how that is making you feel. (“It hurts”)
- Tell yourself that it is a part and parcel of life. (“We all struggle in our lives”)
- Be kind to yourself. (“I forgive myself”)
4. 4–7–8 breathing
Breathing exercises have always been seen as an important technique for soothing yourself and emotional regulation. Out of all, I have used 4–7–8 breathing hundreds of times and it has almost always worked for me. It instantly calms my racing thoughts down.
Science has also shown its efficiency in dealing with anxiety and depression. It works by switching off the sympathetic nervous system and decreasing the secretion of cortisol that can harm the body in a long run.
Here, you breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it in for 7 seconds and then exhale through your mouth for 8 seconds. This has an almost immediate tranquilizing effect on your mind and body.
I would recommend watching this video to follow the steps.
5. Hug yourself
You do not always need someone else to hug you.
I did not start doing this until lockdown when I had nobody to turn to for my daily dose of hugs. To my surprise, it really helped me feel safer when the entire world seemed to be coming crashing down.
Close your eyes and stroke your arms. Hug yourself that way you would want your friend to hug you.
This way you’re providing a message to your brain that you are being taken care of.
6. Art therapy
As a part of my expressive art therapy classes, we drew mandalas every week to see the effect of drawing on our emotions. For me, I was surprised by the almost therapeutic effect of doodling on my mood. Also, it helped me reach the state of flow.
You are the boss when it comes to art. You can use any medium and tool. Express whatever comes to your mind on paper or a screen.
I have a personal journal where I write my opinions about current issues and doodle in the corners of the pages.
I have extensively used all the 6 techniques that I have talked about in this article. One thing I really like about these is the fact that they barely take up anytime from your daily routine. You can easily inculcate a few tweaks in your daily schedule and add these activities for better soothing and regulation.