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When was the last time you felt soothed? Like, soothed to your core?
Perhaps you’re a master at self care and feeling soothed and settled and safe is common practice for you. If that’s the case, I want what you got.
For the rest of us experiencing all the crazy experiences life throws at us (plus if you follow me because of my focus on brain disease, dementia, and caring for someone affected by both, there’s that), figuring out what truly soothes our nervous systems on a deep level can be confusing.
This is because the mind, body, and nervous system that activates and animates us is dynamic. What works one day might not work the next, and even something that seems soothing can leave you feeling empty afterward. For instance, binge watching a show to momentarily escape discomfort, just to feel icky and out of control after the fact. Not that I personally know anything about that. (Insert eye roll here.)
First things first, let’s think about why we as humans want to soothe ourselves anyway. Well, it starts in infancy, right? When babies are upset, the quickest way they can let us know is to start crying. And what do adults, especially mothers immediately do? They pick them up, bounce or rock them, hold and stroke or pat them, perhaps hum or sing, and try their best to soothe the baby.
Imagine if you had a body that could do that for you every time you felt scared? Oh wait, you do, but we’ll get to that in a bit.
So if you think about the reason for soothing our own bodies, it’s a way to calm an anxious, stressed system. It’s a passive, comforting way to try and bring energy levels down, and once again come back to a baseline that feels safer. It also creates presence in the moment. We get to (hopefully) exit our stressful thoughts so calmer emotions can take hold.
Yet if soothing requires presence of mind and body, with all the things vying for our attention, that can be hard to do, but it is key.
The human brain, when left unchecked, is a busy, busy bee. Yet part of the brilliance of the brain is that it can be left unchecked most of the time, and it will hum along, think lots of thoughts, yet still create the automatic behaviors that keep us alive. But to create deeply affective moments of self-soothing, we need to get present with ourselves and step out of the monkey mind for a while.
In that moment of clarity you can ask yourself a question: what do I really need right now? Close your eyes and listen. Try to feel into why you want to be soothed. Soothing is an act of escape, and there’s nothing wrong with escaping a dangerous feeling space. But recognizing what you are trying to escape can be profound. Could it be self-doubt, loneliness, dread, or helplessness?
Acts of self-care that require presence (like meditation, contemplation, or journaling) are always going to soothe on a much deeper level than quick fixes like binge watching, eating, drinking, etc. They might take slightly more effort that grabbing the chips out of the cupboard, but they are much closer to the equivalent of being held and nurtured. You’re giving your body the chance to soothe itself as a mother or father would a child.
If you know you have some soothing habits that aren’t working towards your betterment, see if you can incorporate something more sustaining. Your nervous system will thank you for it.
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