Soothe Thyself

Change is stressful. Even good change is stressful. This is my second week back to work. Right now it is only part-time but that is enough. Less than two months ago I was working 50 hour weeks and thriving on it. Now I come home after a 7 hour day, three days a week and I am wiped out. What the hey?!?

Change is stressful.  Even good change is stressful.

This is obviously something I want. I would not be trying to go back to work unless I really wanted it. It is not something I have to do; it is something I want to do. It is getting easier the more I do it. I am relaxing a little bit just in knowing I am capable – with the help of a lot of good people and my ‘toys’ – of doing the job. My stamina is building. But until I get my groove back and my stamina built, what do I do with all of this STRESS?

Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) has Self-Soothing Skills that are taught as part of the distress tolerance module. You remember self-soothing? When you were one it was the thumb in the mouth and the favorite blankie. Maybe it was sitting in your crib and rocking. Right now those ways of self-soothing might not appear very appealing, but they worked when you were one. What can we old, mature folks do that will work as well without the stigma…or the buck teeth?

DBT looks at self-soothing through all five of the senses. We need to find ways of being gentle and kind to ourselves, comforting and nurturing, and we can do that through the five senses.

Self-soothing is not in the head. It is in the body because that is where the stress is stored.

The first of the senses we will discuss is vision. Well, yippee. Not seeing too well here. How can I be calmed visually?

My AMD is not all that advanced – Thank God. I have peripheral vision. I am also capable of looking at something big, like the sky with clouds, and have that sight fill most of my visual field. Most of the sky with clouds is being seen by the rest of my retina, not the macula. (There are times I will look at something big like the sky just to remember what it is like to see something without a chunk in the middle taken out). Watching the clouds blow across a bright, blue sky is a self-soothing experience for me.

Is there something that you can see that is self-soothing for you? If not, don’t worry. There are four other senses you can fall back on.

How about hearing? Some people like easy-listening or slow, classical music. I am a child of nature so my favorites are from the outdoors. Right now it is getting dusk and the birds are getting ready to roost. Can you hear the robins chirping? Day is done and it is time to rest.

When the sun goes down and the birds are quiet, I can just hear the frogs calling in a wetland nearby. If you don’t live somewhere you can listen to nature, there are recordings of natural sounds that you can download on your computer.

What sounds are calming for you? Listen to them and sooth yourself.

Smell is a great sense. It is very attached to emotions and memory. Even if I could not consciously remember my childhood, for example, I would know it was happy. How, you may ask? Crazy as it sounds, two of my favorite smells are hot tar and creosote. I was raised in a new, 50s era neighborhood with new telephone and light poles (creosote treated) and tar and chip roads. In the heat of the summer, the air was redolent with hydrocarbons. Other people may think they stink, but I love them. They are the smells of my childhood summers.

Which all goes to say, a smell that soothes one person may send another gagging to the bathroom. That’s alright. Smells and their effects are very personal because they are connected to memory and emotion. The olfactory center of your brain sits very close to the emotional brain and the memory center. In this case it really is a matter of location, location, location.

So what smells are able to calm you? While you can get a variety of essential oils that are supposed to be soothing, you don’t have to go the commercial route. Creosote and hot tar may work just as well.

A smell that soothes one person may send another gagging to the bathroom.

So that is three senses. The last ones are, of course, touch and taste.

A friend bought me a gift certificate for a massage when everything went south with my eyes a couple of months back. Massages are wonderful, but they are expensive. If you are on a limited budget you might want to put lotion on your feet or take a nice, bubble bath. Last evening when I was stressed and a little pissy, I went upstairs and took a hot bath with vanilla shower gel. Did the trick. Other ideas would include putting fresh sheets on the bed or putting on a plush, wooly sweater. Curl up and be engulfed in your favorite chair. Pet the dog. Run your fingers along the satin on the blanket.

There are a lot of ways to self-sooth with touch. Find one that works for you.

The last of the senses is taste. A lot of us can get in trouble with taste. I want to self-sooth so I eat the entire Boston cream pie. Wonderful on the lips but not so much on the hips, huh? Moderation and savor are the two key words here. Get one expensive chocolate and see how long it can melt in your mouth. See how many different flavors you can taste. Roll it around in your mouth and make it a multisensory experience. Not only taste that chocolate but feel it and smell it as well. Self-soothing with taste is not about the quantity of food but about the quality of the experience.

Moderation and savor are the two key words here.

So I am listening to the birds calling before night falls. Outside, I am looking at the sky and watching the clouds. I can feel a light, cool breeze on my face. I am not tasting anything, but the smell? Well, I guess it is Spring. It was a stressful day, but I am winding down with my self-soothing skills. It is going to be a restful night.




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One thought on “Soothe Thyself”

  1. Self soothing is often what helps me through my day. My AMD is in the early stages but I have other stresses in my life of a personal nature that can cause me much stress and uncertainty. Self soothing with deep slow breathes is my go to during moments of extreme anxiousness. I can hear my breathe, feel the rise and fall of my chest and the positive effects on the tension in my body.
    I love the smell of nature…..pine trees, flowers. I love the sounds of the wind blowing through the trees, birds in the morning and water washing up on the shore. The feel of a tree. Yes, I completely understand the comfort of all our senses and relate to your message. Thank you.

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