April 6, 2014

Learning How to Self-Soothe

“Block out the noise and refocus on what's inside of you.” 
– Russell Simmons

Lately, I’ve been thinking about self-soothing and how it functions in times of strife.  In clinical terms, self-soothing is a term generally applied to infants, such as when they learn to self-soothe rather than relying on other means to alleviate self-perceived discomfort.  But the term is applicable in adulthood too, and likewise a necessary means of working through a difficult time.

When going through a breakup, death, move (or aftermath of any of the aforementioned), we seek ways to avoid the discomfort.  After all, it is only human.  This is when the inclination to rely on things that provide instant gratification is especially tempting, and it is often because we’re looking for a distraction or, in the case of a failed relationship, a replacement, to avoid confronting and feeling the hurt and pain.  But continually searching for distraction rather than facing the pain head-on winds up being counterproductive in the end. 

The problem with the avoiding or shunning discomfort by seeking replacements or distractions is that the grief, and the residual side effects of it, may sink to the bottom but will always be there. 

Pema Chödrön says that “[t]he central question of a warrior’s training is not how we avoid uncertainty and fear but how we relate to discomfort.”  This may seem counterproductive in our LifeHacker, “4-Hour Workweek”, quick-fix culture, but by fully embracing discomfort as the natural valley of our life experience we will only then be able to fully enjoy the subsequent peaks in our life. 

I am learning that there is no way to addressing difficulty than by facing it head-on, and frankly that’s effing hard to do, because no one wants to hurt longer than they have to.  But, if we don’t walk through the rocky path of discomfort can we get to the daffodils, and lilacs, and my favorite – the peonies. Another way to look at these difficult times is to consider them to be beautiful messes and great agents of personal change and growth.  To think that a personal struggle has the potential to make us better people in the end is actually very exciting, I think.

Through these hard times, however, it is okay, and necessary to find ways to self-soothe, so long as they’re not detrimental to our being in the end.  In fact, there is no better time to learn how to self-soothe than during strife when we’re faced with the temptation of affixing a flimsy Band-Aid (Cheetos or cheap beer) to our pain and hurt. 

I’ve found the following self-soothing tactics to be great sources for personal growth during my own difficult time: 
  • Giving yourself permission to be sad.  When you let go of guilt or "feeling bad" about being sad or mad, you realize how much better that makes you feel.  Self-acceptance has been an instrumental means of self-soothing for me.
  • Yoga - Trite, I know, but true.
  • Acupuncture (community acupuncture is incredibly affordable and if you're in Maine, Maine Center for Acupuncture is fantastic); as a side note, the needles are tiny and painless.
  • Reading – I love a good self-help, but fiction has also been a great way to calm the mind.  I had admittedly not been in the right mindset for fiction these past few months but just yesterday I picked up a book I had previously started and surprised myself in getting whisked away by the pleasure of story.
  • Mad Men – Like my best friend says, sometimes you need something to take your mind away, and a well-written TV show does amazing wonders for that.
  • Working out, and lately weight-lifting, which releases a different kind of endorphin rush than cardio, which I’m finding myself surprised that I like so much.
  • Silence – Previously undervalued for me since I love music so much, but lately I’ve realized how necessary silence is in “blocking out the noise.”
  • Tedeschi Trucks Band - There is nothing more appropriate than blues rock when you're going through a beautiful mess. 


Cheri Michaud said...

Bravo! So few adults have a firm grasp on what it is that helps them to self soothe. I am just starting to discover these things myself. Oddly enough, I find building with Legos and spending time with my chicken to be very calming and relaxing.

Sarah Woehler said...

Thank you, Cheri. I have come to learn that it is fundamentally necessary to know how to take care of yourself in a healthy way, especially when working through a difficult situation. I love your self-soothing tactics! Legos and chickens - can't beat that (and also for recognizing that such pastimes are soothing)!