6 ways to self-soothe when you’re feeling rattled
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Carolann Gneist
16th May, 20170 Comments
Self-soothing means calming your own anxiety and fears when negative triggers tip you over into emotional reacting – instead of thinking and acting clearly and effectively. It’s about being responsible – RESPONSE ABLE – and it’s a truly beneficial practice for building a healthy and balanced mind and body. Self-regulation is something so many of us didn’t learn effectively when we were in our earliest years, but it's vital for lifelong well-being, and the best bit is, we can all learn to do it! Practice, practice, practice... the brain needs repetition to rebuild itself.
Immediately you become aware that you’ve been rattled, upset, fearful, hurt, here are ways to self-soothe:
1. Stop! Pause! Mind the gap! The emotional brain reacts in a split second the moment it perceives a threat. It triggers the fight, flight, freeze response in the body, flooding it with stress hormones, and providing us with a survival strategy with no need for conscious input. Vital if we need to take such action to stay alive, not so useful when we need to stay engaged with others to sort things out. The rational brain, the cortex, needs around two seconds to come back online and take over, so giving ourselves this little pause can be enough to bring us to our ‘senses’, and give us a choice of response.
2. Deep breath in, long breath out. When we let the out-breath be longer than the in-breath, we send a message to the nervous system to relax. A ratio of 4:6 works brilliantly.
3. Recognise the trigger. It’s incredibly useful to bring awareness to triggers by noticing where you feel it in the body and naming it, silently or out loud. A hand to the heart, for instance, creates an immediate mind-body connection, as does verbalising the feeling – "ouch, that felt like an attack". When we name it, we tame it. By giving expression to our experience in this way we transport it across from the right side of the brain to the left, from feeling to thinking, where we can apply rational thought, and take a considered view on how to deal with it.
4. Tap it out! Tapping, or emotional freedom technique, is a quick, easy and effective way to calm the amygdala, the ‘smoke detector’ of the emotional brain who’s job it is the gather evidence of the threat and kick-off the stress responses system mentioned above. An easy and discreet tapping point is just below the collar bone – your instinct will guide you to the right position – and you can do this until you sense self-relaxing back into a calm state. Another good point to tap is between the knuckles of the little and ring fingers. When we do this we tap end points of the meridians, which are the body’s energy highways, transporting vital life force around the organism.
5. Put your hand on your heart and talk yourself down. Use a firm, calm, nurturing adult voice to tell your emotional brain that it can relax now, the danger has passed, you have it covered, this too will pass, mind the gap, etc. Your nervous system is built to respond to gentle supportive touch and to this type of speech. Our fight, flight response is more primitive than this social engagement system, and will, given a little space to calm down, do as it’s told!
6. Give yourself a reactionary gap. A little physical distance from the trigger can work just as well. Move out the way, distract your senses. Look around – find five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
About the author
I am an experienced counsellor from a person centred background, with qualifications in NLP, massage and reflexology. I am part of a trauma informed therapists circle and have a keen interest in neuroscience and the effects of childhood adversity on mental, physical and emotional life. Walking and talking in nature with clients is a speciality.
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