You are in control of your mind and body.
You can learn to self-soothe your way back to a state of calm. You can learn to manage your worry instead of letting it take over. First of all, be patient with yourself.
When anxiety gets a grip on you, the grip can be tough to shake off. It can overwhelm your brain. The limbic system (or your emotional side) takes control and your logical side fades into silence. This is not your fault. This is biochemical.
That said, your brain exists inside your own body. You can get this grip. Any activity that you do to increase serotonin and restore tranquility will bring your emotional and rational sides back into balance.
3 Keys to Finding Self-Soothing Activities
Self-soothing simply means that you do calming things. This is different for everyone. That said, there are typically three things that might make an activity self-soothing:
Any activity that you regularly enjoy can be soothing. In particular, activities associated with positive memories soothe us. For example, one woman said that sipping hot chocolate with a marshmallow on top from a large blue mug made her think of happy afternoons from her childhood. What familiar activities always calm you down?
You have five core senses: sound, sight, taste, touch, and smell. Activities that involve two or more of the senses are the quickest to soothe us. Tuning in to our senses also helps to ground us in the present moment. One example of a multi-sensory self-soothing activity is taking a walk through a garden, listening the birds, smelling the flowers, and feeling the breeze on your skin.
3. Repetitive motion.
Science shows that repetitive motion releases serotonin to help calm us. That’s why anxiety causes some people (and animals) to pace. You can harness this natural instinct by self-soothing with a positive repetitive motion activity such as crochet, stroking a pet’s fur, or bicycling.
Circle the Activities That Soothe You
Give yourself as much support as possible by figuring out all of the different ways that you can self-soothe. Circle each of the items on the following list that you will try for self-soothing. Add any of your own ideas to the lists as well, asking yourself what familiar, multi-sensory, and repetitive activities might help calm you.
- Breathe in five slow, deep breaths
- Cook and enjoy your favorite meal
- Distract yourself with an intense sensation, such as holding ice in your hand
- Knit, crochet, or embroider
- Listen to quiet, calming, repetitive music
- Play a favorite instrument
- Purchase a fresh bouquet of flowers and enjoy their scent and colors
- Put on your favorite, comfiest outfit
- Read a passage from a favorite book
- Self-massage or get a massage
- Sip a soothing warm drink (preferably without alcohol or caffeine)
- Sit in the sun and notice the sounds, sights, and sensations
- Smell familiar perfume, essential oil, or a candle
- Spend time with your pet
- Suck on hard candy or chew gum
- Take a warm bath or a hot shower
- Watch a movie or listen to a podcast that makes you laugh
Remember that you might need different things at different times.
If you are in the throes of anxiety, try an immediate relaxation technique such as holding ice in your hand or doing a breathing exercise. When you notice anxiety about to creep up, but it hasn’t taken over yet, try warding it off with a bike ride or ten minutes of knitting.
Tip: Many of these activities are things that you can incorporate into your daily routine. You don’t have to feel anxious to start them. In fact, by self-soothing steadily throughout the day with small actions, you can prevent anxiety. Find more self-soothing techniques here.
Self-soothing will assist you in bringing your brain and body to a calm state, thereby reducing or even eliminating anxiety. However, do remember that some anxiety is natural and even healthy in life. Things in life do cause us worry. You can manage your worry.
The trick is to face the worry in a manageable way. You can’t avoid anxiety. If you try to avoid worrisome thoughts, they often just grow bigger. If you face them head on, you can often quiet them more easily than you expect.
Above all else, remember that despite how it feels, you are in control.
Here are five reminders to tell yourself when you feel overwhelmed by anxiety:
- I am competent enough to handle the problems that arise.
- Even if the worst-case scenario happens, I can deal with it.
- Panic does not last forever. I will not lose my mind or go crazy. This will end soon.
- It’s okay to show some anxiety in social settings.
- There are things I can do to reduce my anxiety.
Managing Worry: Exercise 1 – The Container
If self-soothing doesn’t get rid of your anxiety, then try this exercise to contain your worry:
- Visualize a container sitting in front of you, ready to hold all of your worry.
- Mentally list an immediate worry, then visualize putting that worry into the box.
- Repeat with every worry that comes to mind. Give the worry a name, then give it to the box.
- Visualize putting a lid on the container.
- Then visualize putting the container on a shelf.
- Now that your worries are contained, invite your mind to focus on something peaceful, pleasant, or productive.
Note that visualizing the container doesn’t work for everyone. Some people need more tangible containers. Here are some alternatives to the above exercise:
- Write a list of every worry. Be brief (just a word or phrase.) Put the finished list in a drawer where it can be out of sight and out of mind.
- Draw a picture of each worry. Put the worry in a box or backpack. Close it up. This all-ages exercise is also good for children who have anxiety.
- Purchase worry dolls. Assign one worry to each doll. Put the dolls inn a box and let them take the worry away.
- The God Box, as described in Al-anon: Write each worry on a piece of paper, put it in a box, and hand the box to God.
Managing Worry: Exercise 2 – Worry Script
Writing a worry script is a powerful way of facing your biggest worries. Here’s how to do it:
- Set aside thirty minutes for this exercise. Turn off all devices and distractions. Focus on the exercise.
- Write down one big worry. Summarize it in one sentence.
- Now, ask yourself what the worst-case scenario is in regards to that worry. For example, let’s say that you are worried about your marriage. What is the very worst thing that could happen?
- Include as many details as possible, particularly focusing on sensory descriptions such as how things look and sound in this worst-case scenario.
- Set aside the script.
- Repeat the above exercise the next day using the same worry. Go into greater detail, delving deeper and deeper into your feelings and reactions.
- Repeat this exercise again every day for 1-2 weeks.
- When you are ready, move on to writing a worry script about a different worry.
Note: You are likely going to feel uncomfortable during this exercise. That’s because you’re facing your anxiety head-on. This isn’t easy, but the more you do it, the easier it will be.
Journaling to Self-Soothe and Manage Worry
Keeping a daily journal is a wonderful practice that can help you cope with your anxiety. The rhythmic motion of moving the pen across the page can be self-soothing. Combine journal time with other sensory experiences, such as lighting a candle while you write, to make the most of this self-soothing.
Your journal is a great place to put your worries. That way, they aren’t just circling around in your mind.
This is similar to managing worry by putting it in a container. Put it all into words on the page. Dig deep into what your worries are and how they make you feel. Ask yourself, “and what feeling is underneath that?” Repeat the question to keep digging deeper into the issue. Then close that journal and focus on your day.
Reach Out to Your Support System
As you can see, you can do a lot for yourself. You can self-soothe. You can manage your worry. You are in a lot more control than it feels like you are.
However, sometimes being alone with your own thoughts is just too much. Sometimes you need to reach out to your support system. Don’t hesitate to do that as part of managing your anxiety. First, identify who is in your support system.
Who are the people in your life who inspire you, comfort you, relax you, distract you positively, and remind you that your worries are not in control?
Your support system might include family members, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, and professionals including therapists. Make sure that you select people who reduce your anxiety. Some of the most well-intentioned people who love us can still make our anxiety worse.
You know in your gut if a call or meeting with someone is going to soothe you or agitate you. Safeguard yourself by reaching out to those who are most helpful. Talk through your feelings with them. Process what’s going on. You are not alone.