We continue a series on how to effectively manage emotions, so that we can engage more thoughtfully in relationship. All of the skills we discuss are designed to support the ultimate goal of wisdom (see post titled, “Emotion Regulation 1.0”).
For several posts, we looked at various awareness skills, and then a couple days ago, we began looking at crisis management skills. Today brings us to our third distress tolerance skill: self-soothe.
Owning your Emotions
In order to self-soothe (or employ any other emotion regulation skill), I must first become consciously aware of my distressing emotions, and then I must own them before I can do anything about them. I must accept that they are my emotions (no one else is responsible for them), and that if I want them to change, I must take responsibility for doing something constructive with them.
Self-soothing, comforting oneself, is a skill that babies learn in the crib when they come to realize that they are separate from the mother and that they won’t always and immediately get what they want. Depending on the environment, we learn effective and ineffective ways to manage our distress.
Flawed Soothing Solutions
Many of us eventually seek out addictions, compulsions and other dependent behaviors in our efforts to self-soothe. These solutions are flawed, however, in that they push our distress underground for a time, only to surface later with a vengeance. Worse, we may misappropriate our distress when it re-surfaces, leading us to look for ways to manage the symptoms we’ve developed, rather than the cause of the original distress.
This is why staying present to our emotions–as they arise–is critical. Only then can we choose self-soothing options that keep us connected to reality.
Our Senses to the Rescue
Thinking during times of calm about the kinds of things that soothe you can help you develop this skill effectively. Think in terms of your five senses, and let’s start with sight. What kinds of things relax you when you look at them. I live in a historical area and find driving around looking at beautiful homes relaxing, for example. Or how about a favorite movie? Or the ocean? Or the mountains? A park? An old photo album? A book?
What about touch? Do you have a favorite blanket, a stress-relief ball, a journal? What about a warm bath? Or snuggling with your partner?
How about taste? Do you find a warm beverage relaxing, or a small piece of chocolate, or your own baking?
What about hearing? Do you find music calming? The sound of the vacuum? A noise machine? Horses breathing? The sound of underwater scuba diving? (There are apps fo these on the internet.)
And smell? Do certain aromas soothe you? Incense? Essential oils?
Combining Sensual Experiences
And let’s not forget about the incredible calm of natural endorphins as a result of vigorous exercise, which can often employ all five senses. Research consistently supports the healing balm of moving the body, especially in a rhythmic, aerobic fashion.
Hobbies often combine senses and can provide a wonderful calming effect during distress. What kinds of activities do you enjoy?
Consider creating a self-soothe kit that includes elements for all five of your senses, so that you have it at the ready when you need it. If you don’t like how your emotions are making you feel, you can do something about it.