A Senses-ible Approach to Soothing Yourself

We all soothe ourselves when feeling stressed, distressed, tired, lonely, angry, and/or hungry, among other negative emotional states, but often we don’t realize that what we’re doing is soothing. Also, our methods for self-soothing are often destructive to ourselves and others.

wine2We over-eat, we shop impulsively, we drink alcoholically and/or abuse other drugs, we fill our computers with pornography, we gamble, we watch TV, we play video games for hours, the list is as varied as we are. All of these are mindless and ineffective attempts at self-soothing. They are more like putting a pause button on our distress, rather than soothing and resolving our pain.

If we do not choose our method of self-soothing mindfully, we will choose it mindlessly, but make no mistake, we will choose it. We need healthy ways of soothing ourselves when painful events occur and painful feelings crop up.  We never outgrow the need to make ourselves feel better when we hurt.

I’d like to offer a “Senses-ible” Toolkit for self-soothing.  This toolkit was inspired, in part, by the work that occupational therapists, who understand the importance of our senses, do with those struggling with Sensory Integration Disorder.

5 sensesThis tool kit uses our five senses, singularly or together, to provide a customized sensory soothing experience when you need it most.  The ideas I suggest here are only that—ideas.  You know yourself best, and what is soothing to me may not be to you. I encourage you to explore what works for you before you decide what to include in your sensory toolkit.

You will also find that you have many ideas for some of the senses and struggle to come up with only one for another. This is okay. Most of us prefer one or two of our senses and tend to respond most strongly when stimulated by that sense. Even so, I strongly encourage you to come up with at least one item for each sense in order to have multiple tools in your toolkit for your most stressful times.

Visual: An obvious addition to your tool kit for visual is photos. Choose pictures that make you smile when you look at them. Consider creating an album on your smart phone and/or computer with all your most favorite photos. Look through Google Images for photos and/or drawings that particularly appeal to you. Have some pictures printed out to put in your tool kit as well.

day's endAuditory: Music is an obvious choice here, however, consider too other sounds that you may find soothing (for example, heartbeats, ocean waves, rain, wind, water flowing, trains, etc.) Also, consider: cats purring, children laughing, wind chimes, and/or Tibetan singing bowls.

Tactile: A little known fact is that for many of us applied pressure is very soothing to our proprioceptive system (our skin, primarily). A weighted blanket or piling pillows on ourselves can feel very soothing, as can being hugged tightly. If this is you,weighted blanket then consider getting a weighted lap pad (Google it, you’ll find it) for your toolkit. Other choices could be a very soft blanket, stuffed animal, or pillow. Also try a surgical brush or loofah sponge. Brush yourself with one of those going from finger-tips to your shoulders, and toes to thighs, daily. This is great for your circulation as well as very soothing.

Olfactory: Take a field trip to your local food co-op, Whole Foods, Super Supplements or similar and experiment with their essential oils to find a few scents that you particularly enjoy. Two common scents associated with calming/de-stressing are lavender and vanilla, however, if you don’t like these odors, you will not find them soothing, so go with whatever you most enjoy.  You can dab a few drops to your temples or the hollow of your throat, as well as to your clothes, pillow cases, or even in your hair.

chocolate_girl_75_xlargeTaste: Taste is the sense that I am most cautious about recommending due to how often people emotionally overeat. I don’t recommend having taste as your primary sense for soothing for this very reason. Instead, I suggest trying all the other senses first when attempting to soothe yourself, and only turn to taste if all the others are insufficient, and then only do so very mindfully.

For example, have just one square of chocolate in your toolkit, with “break in case of emergency” written on it (just kidding…mostly). When eating the chocolate, see how long you can make that square last. Take a very small nibble. Press the chocolate up against the roof of your mouth and allow it to slowly melt in your mouth. Swallow slowly and notice how the chocolate feels sliding down your throat.

By taking these steps to consume your Taste choice mindfully, you will not over-indulge and you will most likely find the experience soothing.

Chocolate is, of course, just a suggestion, but whatever you choose, make it something small, with a long shelf life, so that you can leave it in your toolkit until you need it.

I recommend collecting your items in a beautiful basket or box and keep it where you can easily access it. I also suggest creating a mini kit for your car or workspace. Your phone, for example, can hold both music and photos, to allow for visual and auditory soothing in a pinch.

Creating a Senses-ible Toolkit for a friend or family member also makes a great gift from the heart.

I invite you all to share with us on our Facebook page what you decided to put in your Senses-ible Toolkit.

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