Congratulations if you are reading this because you have decided to rid yourself of unnecessary and heavy emotional baggage.
The first technique that you will need to learn as you start to unburden yourself of emotional baggage is what is called “self soothing”. This involves your ability to manipulate your mood by calming or comforting yourself in the face of negative emotions. Simply put, it means to learn to comfort yourself without drugs, food, alcohol or other destructive distractions.
Self soothing includes a strategy or set of strategies designed to help you cope with overwhelmingly negative or anxiety provoking emotions. These skills or strategies are what emotionally successful people learned from childhood that you might have missed out on if your family was dysfunctional . Or maybe you just “missed that memo”. It doesn’t matter, you are here now. This is a critical skill base geared toward self preservation that actually can make the difference between a successful and happy individual and a deeply suffering and “stuck” individual.
There are days and even periods of time when things may not be quite as you had hoped and you will feel poorly. To be blunt, you may actually feel like absolute crap. You may be thinking about current or past difficulties or dreading some upcoming event. You may be very anxious and fearing the next panic attack or experiencing an upheaval in your personal relationships. You may be fearful that you are being abandoned. These are the times you will be most likely to gravitate back to dysfunctional habits.
You may feel like you absolutely cannot tolerate whatever it is you are feeling and that thought alone will send you to the medicine chest, the liquor store or the Twinkie bin. You may head out on the town to find a replacement for the loved one, someone to make you feel “special and loved”. You then feel worse than before.
Children from dysfunctional families are rarely taught to self soothe. When you lack these skills, you may react with rage or blame when things are not going your way, often making things worse. You may lash out at others to protect yourself from unpleasant feelings. Sometimes the rage or pain gets directed inward and you may think about hurting yourself.
If you approach a situation in a calm state, you are better able to deal with whatever is happening. You are less likely to make rash decisions or act out in some harmful way. We all tend to make poor decisions when we are in negative emotional states.
The immediate benefit of self soothing is to alleviate some emotional pain. It allows you then to think more clearly and get yourself back on track. It allows you to get your feelings back together without engaging in something that ultimately makes you feel worse. It gives you a tool for life to handle the less than ideal times. Emotionally successful people have a cache of these items that they utilize when times get tough.
If you are planning to plow through your emotional baggage you will need some of these techniques on hand and ready. It is uncomfortable to examine where things in your life may have gone askew. You will most likely experience anxiety, maybe sadness, maybe anger. You can experience these emotions without having to act on them. Just let them be there, soothe yourself and plan your next move carefully, thoughtfully and in a manner that has the best result for you.
Picture the emotions as a Chucky doll sitting across the room from you. It’s disturbing, but you don’t have to do anything with them in this moment. They can sit there until you are ready to deal.
Whether you are working on your issues alone or in therapy with a professional, you need these skills. This is one of the most critical skill sets you can learn in life. Use them the minute you start to feel bad before things become a downward spiral of destructive coping mechanisms.
The Best Self Soothing Techniques
- Talk to someone-We are social creatures and find comfort in each other in difficult times (Be careful not to produce burnout in your friends and family. If you feel your needs are excessive or your friends are tiring of your problems, talk to a counselor instead).
- Distract yourself-Do something that completely absorbs and interests you. This works as it forces you to change gears .
- Organizational tasks are good as they allow you to feel some control. This can include cleaning and organizing your house.
- Humor is good, watch a funny show or read a book if you cannot bring yourself to do something active.
- Do something for someone else. Research studies repeatedly produce results that indicate that helping someone else lifts a person’s spirits and that the result is long lasting.
- Engage in your work if it absorbs you, it will shift your mood and it is productive.
- Cook something, this is another creative outlet. Give it away if you don’t want it. It doesn’t have to be a big batch of fattening brownies, it can be a great salad or vegetable dish.
- Engage in your own hobby or start one to utilize for this purpose. Have the necessary items on hand so you can begin the minute you feel like crap. Give it away if you don’t want it yourself.
- Use physical exercise or movement as it exhausts and relaxes you. Sleep is improved and you are paying attention to your body as opposed to agitating thoughts. Mood is immediately improved by release of endorphins.
- Dancing is good as it involves music which also shifts mood. Do stupid moves that make you laugh. It shifts the brain from ruminating.
- Play computer or video games or do a crossword or Sudoku.
- Research something you know nothing about but have had an interest in. Travel, science, potential hobbies, new business ideas.
- Engage in relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation or getting a massage. (I will add here that I have tried progressive muscle relaxation many times and it drives me crazy to lay there and listen to it. I fall asleep or become annoyed and bored to the point I feel worse than when I started. I add this just to let you know it isn’t for everyone. Others love relaxation techniques and experience great relief).
- Meditate- Many forms of meditation are out there and products are available to help you start. As with the relaxation programs, these can be annoying in the beginning until you get good at it and start to realize some benefit.
- Utilize Biofeedback- Home devices include the Emwave, StressEraser and The Wild Divine Programs for your PC.
- Get in the car and go for a ride.
- If you truly can’t get moving, cuddle up with a pet, favorite blanket, or stuffed animal and treat yourself like you have the flu for a little while. Think of this as basic comforting but do not make this your sole manner of self soothing as it is the least productive.
There is a saying “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. That is definitely true here. Give each of the strategies you choose a little test run so you know the ones that will work. You will not feel better if you choose needlepoint as a distraction then spend all day poking your finger with the needle. By planning ahead you are taking control of how you will now handle the less than ideal times in your life.
You can feel poorly and not have to act on it. We all feel poorly at one time or another. It’s how you handle feeling poorly that matters. These are the behaviors that can begin to move you in a forward direction instead of setting you back. If you are always dealing with the aftermath of something you did in order to “feel better” you will never get around to fixing the core problems.
If you have a self soothing technique not listed above that works for you please share it with us in the comment section.
Feel Good For Life!!
Photo by The Library of Congress
This article was written by Dr. Sherman and originally appeared on PsychCentral.com