Self-Soothing Through Our Senses

Remembering back to when my oldest was born, especially those first few months of life experiencing the exhaustion of caring for an infant and the inevitable sleepless nights, so I thought. To my surprise, one morning I found myself groggy-eyed walking into the pediatrician’s office for a well-check and the doctor taking one look at me and commenting on my sleep-deprived appearance and then scribbled something down on his notepad and said, “Read this.” He was a family friend and knew me well enough to know that I would be interested in a science-based book about sleep hygiene. Well, he was right and introducing me to Jodi Mindell’s words of wisdom, Sleeping Through the Night was a game changer for our family. What I learned during this stage of motherhood was the art of self-soothing. Studies have shown that babies who learn how to soothe themselves to sleep have less sleep disturbances and make for happier babies and this undoubtedly extends to happier caregivers. Self-soothing is the art of regulating our emotional state in a healthy way, providing a sense of nurturing and balance to our nervous system. This foundational skill can be used throughout the lifespan to calm our bodies during distress from the oftentimes chaotic world around us.

But how do we self-soothe?

It’s simple if we just think of healthy ways to engage our senses. A few years ago, my brother-in-law was visiting and one morning made me aware that I had what may seem like an alarming amount of body wash containers in the shower. I think he said that he stopped counting after he got to a dozen. We laughed about it and then over the next several days I reflected on this conversation and realized that this is one of my self-soothing skills–I self-soothe through the sense of smell. After a long day, I unwind by taking a hot shower, spending time mindfully taking in the different body wash aromas by pouring some into my hands, holding it up to my nose and breathing in the calming scents. I tend to stick to my favorite scents and at any given time have some variation of vanilla or lavender body wash fragrances in the shower. The act of self-soothing engages our senses and allows us to experience present moment awareness, a difficult concept to imagine when we are often lost in everyday tasks, self-critical thoughts, and a range of emotions throughout the day. In these moments, I take a pause and engage my sense of smell to soothe my system. We can all use these skills to our benefit and here are some additional ways to self-soothe through our senses.

Additional Ways to Engage Our Senses

Touch: A study by Dreisoerner et al. (2021) showed that cortisol, our stress chemical, was lowered by touch. It is no wonder that those warm hugs from our loved ones feel so pleasing, there is a physiological basis for this reaction. Not only does it lower stress hormones but it activates oxytocin, a chemical in the brain that has been referred to as the “cuddle hormone.” Researchers also found that one can use the sense of touch alone by placing a hand on your heart as a way to manage distress. Other ways to soothe through touch: petting our animals, getting a massage, taking an Epsom salt bath, wrapping ourselves in a warm blanket or weighted blanket and bilateral tapping. Taste: sucking on a mint, chewing gum, drinking a warm cup of tea, and eating a piece of chocolate. And who doesn’t love the taste of chocolate? A recent survey showed a link between dark chocolate consumption and reduced odds of reporting symptoms of depression. Hearing: listening to the sounds of nature, listening to our favorite music playlists, podcasts, and guided meditations. Sight: scrolling through pleasant photos on our phones, looking out the window and observing nature and visiting a museum or art gallery. Smell: keeping our favorite calming scents handy like essential oils, fragrances, flowers, candles, and baking comfort foods that smell yummy.

These are just a few suggestions on how to self-soothe through our senses. So, the next time your system is overwhelmed, ask yourself… What are my favorite ways to self-soothe? And then practice your skills and challenge yourself to become an expert in the art of self-soothing.

                    

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1201415/

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2666497621000655

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31356717/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4290532/

Linehan, M. (2014). DBT? Skills training manual. Guilford Publications.

Mindell, J. A. (2010). Sleeping Through the Night, Revised Edition: How Infants, Toddlers, and Parents can get a Good Night’s sleep. Zondervan.

 

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