Managing the Intensity of Our Emotions: Self-Soothing Skills
by Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC
An effective way to reduce the intensity of our emotions- like when we are experiencing intense anger or impulsiveness- or to enhance our emotions- like when we are feeling numb or disconnected from how we are feeling- is by using self-soothing techniques.
What does it mean to self-soothe?
Each of us has different experiences and interactions with the world around us and those experiences and interactions have an impact on our nervous systems, or simply, our brain system. We experience the world through our senses- sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.
Whatever sensory experience we have, impacts the way we perceive what is happening around us. When our bodies gather this information through our senses, it reacts in a way that will ensure that we are safe and will remain safe- our bodies want us to survive!
Everyone is Different
Each one of us has different associations to different sensory experiences. Some of us startle when we hear a loud sound, like when a door slams shut from the wind. Some of us experience a feeling of disgust when we touch something slimy or scaly, like a snake.
It is important to know that each one of us experiences different emotions based on our sensory experiences and the ways in which our brains perceive the information that it gathers from our senses.
Fight, Flight, or Freeze
When we are activated- meaning when we are feeling overwhelmed, angry, stressed, over-excited- our bodies are in what we call “Fight or Flight Mode”. When our bodies respond to a perceived threat/danger, our autonomic nervous systems react automatically. In order to deactivate this urgency to flight, flight or freeze, we want to utilize effective skills that can be experienced through the senses to change the response our bodies are having to a perceived threat by reminding our bodies that we are safe and able to relax.
Developing a Skillset
The best part of this skillset is that we are capable of utilizing these techniques on our own- meaning you can practice these skills with your therapist or use them on your own- in the car, in your room, at the food store- whenever and wherever.
So here are some examples of what may be a way to positively engage our senses to bring about calm and safety:
Sight- Challenge yourself to look around your environment and identify as many items with a certain color, like blue. Go through the rainbow, ROYGBIV, until you have identified each color category and the items that fit in each of those categories. Make sure to actively seek these items and intentionally look- act as if this is a quest or assignment that requires your full attention.
Sound– Often music is a wonderful way to target our emotions as well as bring about a reaction in our bodies. You can simply create a playlist that contains songs that you have already identified as soothing or explore playlists that have calming beats and rhythms.
If you are on a walk, you may want to challenge yourself to listen and identify the sounds that you hear around you. For some, challenging yourself to create sounds utilizing objects in your environment may be helpful and serve as a playful activity to decompress.
Smell- If you are near a kitchen, you can go through your spice cabinet and smell the different herbs and spices that you can find. You can make it a challenge by also trying to guess what each scent is. Candles and scented oils are also a great way to engage your sense of smell and often is one of the most effective ways to a calming reaction. Lavender is a great scent for calming and relaxation. Mint and Eucalyptus provide an energy boosting effect.
Taste- When we engage our sense of taste, the goal is not to engage mindlessly with the items that we are placing into our mouths with the intention of filling our stomach. Rather the intention is to pay attention on purpose to the experience of tasting. Is this sour, is this sweet, is this salty? What flavors am I experiencing? What textures am I experiencing?
Often something sour or bitter can have a strong reaction that requires us to pay attention. Something spicy, like cinnamon chewing gum is a great way to subtly practice self-soothing when on the go.
Touch- With touch, attention is placed on experiencing an object or surface as if it were the first time. Running your hands over blades of grass, experiencing sand slipping through your fingers. Allowing yourself to be curious as you do this will enhance your experience and ground you to the moment. Some people like to have fidget objects, putty, or stress balls to carry around with them that they can engage with when feeling stressed or anxious.
Please note that by engaging 2 or more senses at the same time can be an effective way to reduce the intensity of your anxiety, feelings of overwhelm, and anger. The goal for these skills is not to take away what is causing the stress, the frustration or the overwhelmed state, but to bring you into a calmer and more relaxed state so that you can feel more capable of problem solving and managing these stressors.
If you would like to learn more about Self-Soothing Skills and how we can help you, give us a call or send an email: 908-857-4422 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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