Written by Mercedes Miller
Yesterday, I attended a webinar led by Dr. Pat Ogden that covered the topic of delivering sensorimotor psychotherapy, a therapy that combines body awareness and body movement with cognitive therapies, in an online format. One of the major themes that I found throughout this webinar was self-soothing behaviours: tools that we can use to calm and relax ourselves when we’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious or distressed.
Hugs, cuddles and being close with others release feel-good hormones in our bodies such as oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. These hormones help us feel relaxed, happy, and elevate our general mood. But in times like these, when lots of us are staying home to practice social distancing, hugs and cuddles can be few and far between.
After leaving the webinar, I thought to myself: “what better time to share a blog post about self-soothing behaviours than a time when we are all physically far apart?”
Here are some ways that you can self-soothe during times of crisis like this, or anytime when you’re feeling alone or anxious:
1) Give yourself a hug or hug a pillow.
These self-hugs can create a sense of safety and warmth. Rocking back and forth while we give these hugs can bring our bodies back down into a state of balance and calm.
2) Be mindful about what your body is feeling.
If you’re feeling claustrophobic and stuck during these times, feel the way that your legs are able to carry you across the room. If you’re feeling anxious, feel your body being supported by your chair, the floor and by gravity. Try to check in with yourself and see how your body is feeling during different activities: how do you feel when you are watching the news? When you’re meditating or stretching? Commit to activities that bring you a sense of peace.
3) Check-in with your temperature and adjust.
Tune in to how your body is feeling. Are you too hot, or too cold? Turning the heat up, putting on a blanket or turning on a fan can regulate our body temperature and leave us feeling more grounded and calmer.
4) Feeling angry or too energetic? Let it out.
By pushing against a surface such as the floor, a wall, or an exercise ball we can expend this built up energy and let it all out. Other great ways to let this energy out in a healthy way can be at-home dance parties, going for a run or squeezing a stress ball.
5) Take the time to mindfully eat something.
Whether it is your favourite meal or a piece of gum, try to set aside all distractions and focus on eating. Chew slowly, and see how it feels in your mouth, how it tastes, and try to notice something about it that you haven’t noticed before. This mindfulness can take your mind off anxious thoughts and feelings and return you to a state of balance.
6) Light a candle or turn on a diffuser.
Certain smells, such as lavender, can increase our relaxation and initiate a feeling of calm. Smells can remind us of safe spaces and can help our living spaces feel like sanctuaries.
7) Turn on some music or turn it all off
Relaxing music can bring a gentle rhythm to our bodies, or if you’re feeling overwhelmed, sitting in silence can be more relaxing.
8) Cuddle or stroke your pet.
Pets make great companions and touching them or cuddling them can alleviate feelings of loneliness. They’ll probably love the attention too!
9) Use your breath.
Your breath is your best tool and does a lot to regulate your body. Box breathing is a great place to start if breathing exercises are new to you: inhale for 5 counts, hold for 5 counts, exhale for 5 counts, hold for 5 counts, repeat.
You might have noticed that these suggestions cover all your senses. So, a good place to start with self-soothing behaviour is to do a mental check-in of all 5 of your senses: what am I feeling? What am I hearing/seeing/smelling/tasting? Start here and see which one of your senses needs some TLC.
We might find ourselves using these now more than ever, but these practices are also helpful for when things go back to normal - before bed, when you wake up, or when you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed.
So until we’re able to hug and hold hands again, I hope these suggestions help you feel loved, warm and at peace.
Mercedes Miller is a Masters' student in Counselling Psychology at Adler University and recently completed her Social Justice Practicum with Avalon Recovery Society for the 2019/2020 academic year.
Mercedes has a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and volunteered at ANOVA, a shelter for women experiencing domestic violence in her hometown of London, Ontario. She says her experiences have led her to be very passionate about feminism and supporting all women.