Self-soothing forms part of an emotional regulation strategy aimed at regaining equilibrium after a distressing event or acute stress response. Before falling into a downward spiral of anxiety, here are some techniques to keep those anxiety ants at bay:
Deep breathing can result in increased comfort and relaxation while lifting symptoms of anxiety.
Fill the balloon
Imagine filling up a balloon in your abdomen by inhaling slowly through the nose until your abdomen feels full. Exhale until the balloon feels empty, and repeat.
Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and relax for four seconds. Repeat for four rounds.
Savour your senses
By focusing on your senses, you divert your focus from your anxiety, creating a positive distraction.
Touch something comforting. Allow curiosity to lead you, and take a moment to touch different textiles and focus on what physical sensations it might bring up for you. Give yourself a hug! A hug or any kind of compassionate touch causes the brain to release oxytocin – a hormone that makes you feel safe, connected, and loved.
Self-soothing pro-tip: Your brain cannot distinguish between a hug given to oneself or a hug given to someone.
Taste and Smell
Drink a cup of hot herbal tea, while you light a scented candle. Focus on the different aromas and tastes.
Listen to your favourite song – attend to the melody and lyrics, and focus on what emotional and physical sensations this might bring up for you.
Scan your surroundings and focus on a particular colour. Search for various objects in your periphery with the same hue. Keep your eyes open and focus on distant points, as this will aid in you to feel more connected to the present and widen your perspective away from a tunnel-viewed outlook associated with anxiety.
Bring on the moves and take out your paintbrush
By stretching your muscles and moving with defined, slow movements can shift stagnant energy. Another practice is painting with watercolours – a tactile activity providing visual stimulation. Both of these techniques may form a distraction from the distress by externalising it.
Spend time with your fluffy friends
This taps into a tactile stimulation and emotional connection, providing a focus away from the distressful experience. If you do not have a pet, you can set a date to volunteer at an animal shelter.
Show some self-love
When you’re in a state of distress, you may engage in dismissive, invalidating self-talk. Rather validate your experience with self-compassion by noticing your inner dialogue and using language that offers comfort, such as, “I am strong as I have made it through tough times before,” “I feel grounded at the moment,” “I am not my thoughts,” “I am worthy of love,” etc.
F for favourites
Make a list of your favourite things in several different categories, like food, songs, movies, books, and places, and visualise each of them briefly. Take this a step further, and visualise you favourite place by creating a mental image that captures the colours, the sounds, and other sensations associated with this place.
Other worthy practices
Start early – engage in grounding exercises when you start to feel anxious. Even better, practice this even when you are not feeling anxious, as this will make applying the techniques less effortful when you do feel overwhelmed by anxiety. Perform repetitive tasks – this creates rhythm, which can ease tension and provide an outlet for anxiety. Examples include, knitting, folding laundry, washing dishes, and doodling patterns.
Anxiety may be a daily reality for most. Take the time to practice these self-soothing techniques, and note which ones aid in combating those itchy anxiety ants.
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