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.

What Does It Mean to Live in the Moment?

What Does It Mean to Live in the Moment_

Being “in the moment” is a big part of mindfulness and it’s been shown in studies to be really effective in helping us to feel happier.

A big study into wellbeing found that daydreaming, thinking ahead and going off track with our thoughts in general are a lot more likely to make us feel miserable.

Participants were asked to log in and say what they were doing at that particular moment, how happy they were and whether they were thinking about that activity.  In almost half of cases, their thoughts were elsewhere and this seemed to be directly linked to their mood.

This led researchers to claim a link between not being “in the moment” and feeling unhappy, even if this tangent includes positive thoughts about something that we like or enjoy.  They believe that the distraction is what was making a lot of the study participants less happy, rather than their emotions being the cause of their wandering mind.

The Importance of Being “In the Moment”

There’s a lot to be said about the wellbeing benefits of being able to stay “in the moment” with our thinking but it’s not always that easy to actually make this happen for any great length of time.

Our minds are very good at veering off on tangents, sometimes to the past or the future. This can work against us in some cases and encourage thoughts about things that may happen further down the line (but often never do!).

Most of our negative thoughts tend to involve dwelling on things that have happened in the past or worrying about what could happen in the future. Living more “in the moment” takes this away and forces us to focus on the here and now, which is often a lot less stress inducing.

A busy, active mind is only part of the problem though. Add in the fact that most of us also have incredibly hectic lives (and increasingly blurred lines between home and work in many cases) and it’s not hard to see why few of us spend much time “in the moment”.  The end result? Our busy minds take control of us.

You can change this through mindfulness, which is all about spending time in the present. This helps to distance yourself from your thoughts and take a step back from them.

How to Be “In the Moment”

Mindfulness doesn’t involve fighting against your thoughts. The key thing is to acknowledge your thoughts and let them wash over you. You don’t need to push away any of your thoughts or even pass any judgement on them at all. You just want to observe them.

Savour the Moment

Mindfulness can be practiced in lots of different scenarios but you may want to start off with something that you enjoy to get into the habit and experience the benefits.

Next time you’re eating a food or enjoy or doing an activity you really enjoy, take the time to really focus on what you’re doing and the way it makes you feel. For food, concentrate on taste and texture, for example.

Most of the time, we rush through everyday things including eating and drinking but they’re a great opportunity to spend some time “in the moment”.

Focus on Something Else

One mistake that people often make when trying to be more mindful is to overthink things.

Focusing your attention on outside things can help to distract yourself from the ‘talk’ that is happening in your mind.

It can also be a good way to make it easier for you to avoid attaching any kind of label to thoughts that come into your mind and judging them. This way, the thought come and go in your mind without it gaining the same significance compared to non mindful thinking.

Accepting Feelings and Emotions

A lot of the time, we’re actively trying to fight against emotions, especially negatives ones such as stress, anxiety, sadness and pain. Rather than making things better, this usually only makes us feel worse.

Being “in the moment” with your emotions means accepting that they may be out of your control. You’re not admitting defeat and you still have complete control of how you manage the emotion(s). The key thing is not to let it overwhelm you or to focus your attention on it. Acknowledge it by all means but then try to turn your attention to something else.

How to Include Mindfulness in Your Day

How to Get Started with Mindfulness

When life gets busy or stressful, it can be easy to get caught up in your thoughts and feelings.

This is where mindfulness can really come into its own. It’s all about being “in the moment” and taking stock of how this makes you feel so that you can take greater control over your mental health and well-being.

How Can Mindfulness Help You?

From a mental health perspective, mindfulness can help you to step back from your thoughts as you become more aware of them. You might be able to see patterns in your thought processes that you weren’t in a position to recognise before ,which you can then work on retraining into more helpful thought patterns.

Another benefit of mindfulness is the opportunity to take back some control over your thought processes. By acknowledging your thoughts but not dwelling on them, you’re taking away most of their power over you. Instead of being  overwhelming, they become easier to deal with.

Tips for Practicing Mindfulness

You don’t need to find a big window in your diary to start including mindfulness in your day-to-day life. It’s something that you can focus on whenever you have some free time, even if this is just for a few minutes at a time.

It can be hard to get to grips with mindfulness at first and you may find yourself feeling discouraged by the thoughts and worries that are likely to come into your mind when you start to focus on the world around you.

The trick is to let them flow over you, rather than trying to make them go out of your mind. Bring yourself “back” when your mind starts to wander.

Examples of Mindfulness in Action

Practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to be complicated and it’s surprisingly easy to find opportunities to do so. Here are a few easy ways to introduce it into your day:

Be aware of your breathing: When you’re feeling stressed, focusing on your breathing can help to calm you down. It’s also a way to practice mindfulness and can be done pretty much anywhere. For the next few breaths, concentrate on how you feel as you breathe in and out deeply. You may find that you need to alter your breathing pattern as you pay close attention to it and this gives you more opportunity to note the sensations.

Relax your facial muscles: Stress and tension can lead to the muscles in your face becoming tight. Taking a few minutes to relax your forehead and jaw can help to ward off stress induced pain (especially headaches) and can even encourage you to feel calmer as you release the tension.

Listening to music: Mindfulness can also be as simple as listening to music and immersing yourself in the tempo. Music with a slow beat is generally recommended as it is more relaxing. As you listen, think about the sound of the music and how it makes you feel.

Want to learn more about mindfulness? There are various courses you can take (both online and in person) that will teach a broad range of mindfulness skills in more depth.