The Art Of Self-Soothing
The window of tolerance is the range of nervous system arousal where an individual is capable of processing successfully. When people are within this window, they are freely able take in and integrate information while responding to the requirements of life without significant struggle.
On either side of this range of tolerance are the categories Hyper-arousal and Hypo-arousal. I don’t know about you, but I have examples of both in my life experience.
I tend toward Hypo-arousal. Hypo-arousal is characterized by symptoms like numbness of inner body sensation, confusion, and attention struggles. For me, that will look like forgetting where I put my keys, losing track of appointments, feeling “foggy” or a generalized feeling of numbness.
During overtly triggering experiences, I will quickly go to Hyper-arousal, which is characterized by things like sleeplessness, anxiety, irritability, anger, struggles in concentration and being easily startled. For me, that will specifically look like snapping at my children and husband, jumping when touched unexpectedly (even by safe people), and a generalized “body” anxiety.
Because of these nervous system realities, I have taught myself to self-soothe or self-regulate. Everyone self-soothes in some way, but some strategies are healthy, and others can be harmful. We all need the regulating that other safe humans can provide but as we learn to regulate ourselves, we have ever-available tools in our hands.
As people who live in the gap between not being well-parented and needing to parent (or just live) well, I feel passionate about us becoming advocates of our precious bodies. This will mean finding tools that work.
We must re-parent ourselves in the gap and allow ourselves to receive gentle parenting from others when it is available.
Our traumatized nervous systems have worn themselves out in caring for us in our unpredictable lives. I see this as giving back to the beautiful system that has helped us to survive and coaxing it to relax into a more normalized state where we can thrive.
Over the years, I have gathered self-regulating practices and tools. I hope they are helpful to you as well.
If you are struggling with a younger place in your story, considering writing a letter to yourself at that age. Go back with your memory and see what images you can draw up. What do you look like? How did you feel? What scared you? What thrilled you? Now, use that data to kindly respond with all of your current grown-up goodness. You can keep the letter or shred it if it feels to vulnerable to exist in the world.
Purchase a weighted blanket. Weighted blankets can provide a sense of grounding and nurture to anxiety. You can rest with one or sleep with it. Try using it when your body feels Hyper-aroused. Here is the one I have: https://amzn.to/2RTIYEx
Practice yoga regularly. It is not easy for me to choose to practice yoga. But research shows that it has the ability to counter-act trauma and to help us be present. You can try it at home with a video or attend a class. There are yoga sequences for anxiety and trauma.
Purchase an acupressure mat. This little tool is one of my favorites but it is so strange! It is a small mat with plastic spikes that activate your pressure points. You have to build tolerance but it elevates serotonin and you can feel the profound relaxing effects after 20 minutes. It is also great for relieving back or neck pain. As with all tools, this is my experience, and may not be yours. For a mere $18, I think this is a great tool: https://amzn.to/2NpfOhJ
Exercise with intention. We all know that exercise is necessary for health. But certain exercise is actually calming to our nervous system. Weighted squats actually signal the brain to increase the production of healthy neural cells. Any exercise (such as walking, running, cycling) engaging the large leg muscles will benefit the nervous system.
Begin taking Magnesium. Truth be told, I love and hate supplements. There are so many that have good research backing their validity that it feels like I should just eat supplements instead of food! But this one has proven helpful to me. I sleep better and my body feels more at rest on a regular basis. Our diet does not allow us to consume the amount of magnesium required for our bodies. This mineral aids in the production of serotonin, our feel good hormone.
Drink Green Tea. I know. It tastes kind of earthy. But along with a small caffeine surge, it provides L-theanine, which is an amino acid that helps increase levels of dopamine and serotonin.
Meditation. This can be in the form of centering prayer, silence, or guided through an app or podcast. I like to meditate with intention, which for me is tuning my heart into the Spirit and myself at the same time. Meditation slows down heart rate, breathing rate, and lowers blood pressure. It regulates the fight or flight functions in our nervous system.
Take Ashwagandha. My kids think this is the wierdest name. It is. This herbal adaptogen has been recommended to me numerous times by naturopaths. A sweet friend was recently diagnosed with cancer and her naturopath told it was THE natural support for her chemotherapy. Ashwagandha has multiple health benefits but the self-regulating applications are it counter acts anxiety and regulates chemical signaling in the nervous system. I take it at night which aids in better sleep.
Create a meaningful ritual. Many of us have significant trauma that we desire to address. Here are some ideas to get your creativity flowing:
*Have you lost someone? Choose a song to play regularly to remember them.
*Are you struggling with believing lies or limiting beliefs? Write them down and then burn them. Choose their opposites and write them on a rock or something permanent and keep it where you will see it.
*Do you need to let go of the opinions of others? Grab a sharpie, go to a body of water, write those names on rocks and throw them into the water. Release along with the rocks, your need for other people to validate you.
*Are you struggling with identity? Paint a picture, make a magazine collage or otherwise create art that reminds you of who you are. Hang it somewhere prominent.
*Cook a meal or bake an item that reminds you of the person you are struggling with. Cook or bake with curiosity. Why do you feel the way you feel? Move slowly. Savor the process and the end product. Be curious about how you feel afterwards.
*Struggling to hold on to a truth about yourself? Go to the woods and make cairn. Take a picture and trust that even if the next time you come the cairn is gone, the truth of you will not have changed.
*Make your own! These examples are just to get your mind going. Your ritual will be more healing if you create it with your particular situation in mind.
EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique is a form of psychological acupressure. Tapping with your fingers is used to input energy to the head and chest while you think about your specific issue and includes voicing affirmations. This combination of tapping and affirmation clears the "short-circuit" and restores energetic balance in the mind and body. You can learn how on good ol’ YOUTUBE. It sounds hokus-pocus but really is just another way to regulate our body energy.
These are a few of my favorite self-regulations tools. I would LOVE to learn from you and hear some of yours in the comments. As we learn to re-parent and regulate ourselves, may this community be one of the tools we draw from.