How to Activate Your Body’s Self Soothing System

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We all have a natural self soothing system that can bring us back into balance after stressful periods but it’s not always easy to tap into this, especially if you’ve been super anxious for a while. It can also go awry due to childhood experiences. Here’s some good news though: when you know how, you can activate your inner self soothing system and bring about a sense of calm.

Why Your Self Soothing System is So Important

A self soothing system is all about the way our bodies return to calm, even after you’ve been stressed. This is super helpful for making decisions and getting your body’s systems back into a state of calm.

With a self soothing system, you live in a state of heightened awareness. If you tend to feel constantly on edge and hyper alert to threats, it’s probably linked to not activating your self soothing system. It’s exhausting and leads to a lot of stress related physical symptoms.

Self soothing is linked to the vagus nerve, which runs from your brain to your gut. It’s tied into the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as the “rest, digest and heal” state). This helps to reset your body after it’s been affected by a stressor and brings you back to a more reflective state.

When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, your body is balanced and there’s a lot less stress on your heart and other organs. As an added bonus, lower cortisol levels means you’re also likely to have better immunity and find it easier to keep a healthy weight.

It can help you to reduce the “fight or flight” syndrome and the many physical effects it can have on your body. Struggling to break away from anxiety? It could be a sign that your vagal tone isn’t as strong as it could be.

One more thing to know about the self soothing system? Self soothing and self compassion in general is linked to the caregiving system. Because it helps you to release more of the oxytocin chemical, it brings about feelings of trust, safety, calmness and compassion for yourself – much the same as when you were very young and felt safe in your mother’s arms.

Self Soothing Activities

A few things that you can do to tap into your self soothing system:

Deep breathing helps the “out” breath to flow slowly and calmly. Ideally, you want your “out” breath to be longer than your “in” breath. For self soothing breathing exercises, you definitely want to be breathing from your diaphragm.

Spending time on a body meditation scan can also be self soothing. Go through each part of your body in turn, noticing the tension that you may be holding there and imagining it flowing away.

Going into a “safe” place in your mind can be a go to option for self soothing. The exact location of this place is going to be unique to you and can be anywhere from a beautiful, peaceful setting to a place you’ve always felt safe and happy in the past. Wherever your choose, go deep and focus in on what you can see, hear and smell in your “safe” place. This helps you to go back there whenever you need to.

Putting your hand on your stomach or across your heart can help you to feel calmer.

Massaging your forehead stimulates the trigeminal nerve, which brings the vagus nerve and self soothing system into action.

Hugs encourage the release of oxytocin, also known as the “love chemical”. You can get the same effect by hugging yourself and weird as it may sound, it can tap into your self soothing system.

Yoga can act as a self soothing activity as it helps to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system and encourages your body’s natural healing systems to come into play. It’s also a great way to bring cortisol levels down to a healthy level. The “touch” elements of many yoga poses also have a self soothing effect.

Mindfulness, meditation and tai chi are non judgemental in their nature and are super helpful for developing good vagal tone. They also release more of the neurotransmitter, GABA, which the vagus nerve encourages production of to calm you down and reduce anxiety.

Lying on the ground can feel supportive and safe. Pulling your knees up towards your chest in a nod to the fetal position is also soothing and nurturing.

Create Self Soothing Experiences

These typically involve more than one of your senses to really tap into the soothing effects. For example, you might look to engage your sense of smell, sound and taste by indulging in a scented bubble bath while also sipping on a delicious hot chocolate and playing your favorite music.

Self soothing strategies tend to be totally unique to you so your own personal go-to soothing experiences might be very different to other people’s strategies. Experiment with a few different combinations that involve your senses and see what works for you.

Avoiding Weight Gain Over the Holidays

With so much tempting seasonal food on offer over the holiday season, it might seem inevitable that you’ll put on a few pounds. Between November and January, lots of us put on at least one extra pound (and sometimes a lot more!). And most people don’t lose this either, which is definitely a big incentive to try to avoid putting on extra weight over the holidays. With a few savvy tips, you can enjoy the holidays AND keep your weight under control.

Balance protein and carbs

During the holiday season, a lot of meals and snacks will be carb heavy with not much protein. This can ramp up your appetite as protein helps to fill you up and is also useful for maintaining a healthy weight. Trying to balance carbs with some protein can be super important for avoiding overeating. Adding some meat, poultry and fish to your plate over the holiday season can help with this.

Don’t skimp on fiber

Another nutrient that holiday food can lack is fiber. This can also help to keep you feeling fuller for longer. Vegetables, legumes, whole grain, nuts and seeds all add some all important fiber to meals and snacks.

Bring your own dishes

If you’re invited to a holiday party and are worried that the dishes on offer will hinder your efforts to not gain weight, ask your host if they’re okay with you taking along your own healthy dish. This gives you a lot more control over what you’re served as you can make sure that it’s healthy and filling.

Work in extra activity

Look for ways to get a little more active while you’re running holiday related errands. Park the car further away from the store, for example. It’s super easy to get more steps in without doing anything special. And it’ll probably be easier to get a parking space too!

Get active with family and friends

If you usually sit around with friends and family during the holiday season, try getting a bit more active together. Even if it’s just a gentle walk, it’s a lot better than nothing. Plus, you won’t be focused on food!

Don’t skimp on sleep

Burning the midnight oil during the holiday season can make you more likely to put on weight. That’s because not getting enough sleep makes you snack more, according to studies. Lack of sleep can also throw your metabolism out and make it harder to keep your weight under control.

Keep stress under control

The holidays can be a super stressful time and this can be bad news for your weight. Chronic stress can mean a continuous production of cortisol, a stress hormone that is released during the stress response. High cortisol levels are linked to weight gain, especially belly fat, and you’re more likely to turn to unhealthy foods.

If you start to feel overwhelmed with everything you have to do during the holiday season, taking steps to manage your stress levels can help to control your appetite and weight. Meditation, mindfulness, yoga and journaling can all help with this.

Factor in liquid calories

It’s not just the contents of your plate that matters from a weight gain perspective … what you’re drinking can be super important too. Sugary and alcoholic drinks can be a huge culprit in consuming extra calories and they’re widely available throughout the holiday season. This can mean that you end up putting on weight, even if you’re really careful with eating. Drinking alcohol can also mean that you snack more, which is a double whammy for weight gain. Sticking to one or two drinks and alternating with water in between can help to manage both the calories in your drinks and on your plate.

Downsize your plate

The bigger your plate, the more likely you are to eat more so it makes sense to swap down to a smaller plate. This might seem obvious but making a simple change like this can make a big difference as to whether you gain weight over the holidays or not. Experts tend to agree that more white space encourages the need to cover it with food so the less white space you have, the better! Another trick is to cover the white space with salad to fool your brain into putting less food on the plate.

Rope in a like minded buddy

If you have a friend who is also committed to avoiding weight gain over the holidays, get them on board as an accountability buddy. Check in with each other regularly to talk about your goals and any temptation you encounter. It’s only human to feel tempted by delicious looking holiday food but a quick chat with a like minded buddy can get you back on track.