In our busy world, so many of our activities contribute to stress and tension. From work to relationships to traffic, junk email, and news on television we often feel tied up in a knot. Stress so permeates our world we may feel we can’t escape.
Stress churns up anxious thoughts and feelings that cloud our judgment. We may react inappropriately with heightened tension, fear, or anger. Within our minds there’s a small child wishing to be rocked in mom’s arms. To help us control our stress and regain our poise, we need to generate some of that soothing for ourselves. All of us have some ability to soothe ourselves, based on habits we’ve developed throughout our lives. Starting in childhood we pick up hints from our parents on how they soothe themselves. We also discover other methods that help us get through tough times. For most of us, these habits we pick up have to last us a life time because we are exposed to little, if any, conscious training on how to soothe ourselves. By taking conscious control now and improving our skills at self soothing we can increase our ability to survive and excel in life.
There are many ways to go about self-soothing for the body and the mind. We can speak pleasantly and reassuringly to ourselves. We can relax our bodies through movement or relaxation. Some activities like listening to or making gentle music and meditating have a deep affect on both body and mind. No one way is better than another. We need to read, experiment, find counseling and teachers to help us learn what methods work best for us.
Muscle relaxation can cut tension and bring deep relief. Whether we relax by taking a sauna, getting a massage, or consciously letting the tension drain out of each of our muscle groups, we’ll find tension rolling off us in waves. However, our muscle tension has been developed in deep habits, and until we learn new habits, we’ll find the tension returning.
Meditation or silent prayer helps focus and still the mind. Meditation soothes deep wounds, and helps us stay balanced in the storms of life. By reducing obsessive thinking about stressful topics we can break the cycle of stress that leads to worry that leads to more stress.
Improved, natural breathing can relieve anxiety, and increase energy. Taking a few deep breaths can have an almost miraculous affect when we feel overwhelmed by giving us oxygen as well as by letting go of the subtle powerful tension we hold in our breathing muscles.
Positive self talk gives us inner encouragement, and helps lift us out of a sense of aloneness and helplessness. Soothing self talk can calm our nerves by reminding us to focus on the positive aspects of a situation, and helping us accept loving support from people and from a higher power.
Even though we usually associate soothing with stillness, not all still activities are soothing and not all soothing activities are still. For example, two of the major “unwinding” activities of our times, drinking alcoholic beverages and watching television prove in study after study to leave us feeling more tense and less empowered than we felt before we started.
On the other hand, sometimes, unwinding and soothing takes work. For example, playing a musical instrument may take years of hard work and practice, and yet people report almost universally that playing an instrument unwinds them and lifts them out of their emotional blocks.
Physical activity can have wonderful soothing effects on our nerves. Whether going out for a walk or jog, taking dance or yoga lessons, or otherwise getting out of the low energy that we have fallen into can have deep soothing effects. We may also find ourselves more relaxed and less tense by reducing caffeine and sugar intake.
Our social network is one of our best resources for soothing, and the more effort we put into learning how to listen to and support others, the more we’ll find their support will help us when we need it. Strengthening social networks when we’re feeling good is like putting money in the bank that we can draw on when we need support ourselves.
Unfortunately, many of us allow the tension of the day to influence the way we relate to loved ones. This tension puts us in a combative frame of mind, and our tension can lead to arguing which in turn creates more tension. We need to break this cycle by learning to soothe ourselves and each other. Learning how to soothe ourselves and each other can strengthen and deepen the supportiveness of our social network.
Surprisingly, we don’t always know that we are anxious. Feelings creep up slowly, and we may not be attuned to the signs of anxiety. Before we know it we are responding inappropriately. Through journaling and counseling we can learn to understand and evaluate our own patterns, and soothe anxiety before it escalates. By becoming conscious of our anxiety, and of methods for soothing the tension and anxiety underlying many pressured situations, we can improve our quality of life.
See Also: Affirmation, Body/Mind, Breathing, Child Within, Couples Therapy, Meditation
Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns
Wherever you go there you are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Seven principles for making marriage work by John M. Gottman, Ph.D. and Nan Silver