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.