6 ways to self-soothe when you’re feeling rattled

Self-soothing or self-regulating 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.


What is self-regulation?

Self-regulation is something so many of us didn’t learn effectively in our earliest years, but it's vital for lifelong well-being. When you learn to regulate your emotions, immediately, you become aware that you’ve been rattled, upset, fearful, or hurt.

The best bit is, we can all learn to do it! And it takes practice, practice, practice... the brain needs repetition to rebuild itself.

Here are six simple ways you can 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, but 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 them in the body and naming them, 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 (EFT), is a quick, easy and effective way to calm the amygdala – the ‘smoke detector’ of the emotional brain whose job it is to 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 of the way, and 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.

If you liked this article, you might also like Grounding techniques for stress, anxiety and panic attacks.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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