By: Hannah Pavett, M.A.
With the holidays quickly approaching, we are entering a season that can bring up difficult emotions for so many people, such as stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, grief, and loss. It is difficult because the media makes us think that the holidays should be a cheery time, but it's important to normalize that this is not the case for many people. It's easy to compare our situations to others, which can increase the difficult emotions, and it can be tough to know what to do to help yourself in the midst of distress.
Observing your internal experiences (thoughts, feelings, physical sensations) is a vital tool to create space to honor your experiences, even if they are unpleasant. Our human instinct is to push away our emotional and psychological pain, but it can increase our unpleasant emotions and make us feel more stuck. If you're willing, it may be worth trying to see how it feels to practice noticing and creating space for these emotions by holding them lightly and allowing them to exist without pushing them away or getting too caught up in them.
When experiencing heightened emotions, you may be feeling dysregulated and overwhelmed. It is essential to take time for yourself by checking in with your internal experiences and giving them space. Self-soothing is a way to take observing inner experiences to the next step by caring for ourselves and giving ourselves a safe space when experiencing heightened emotions. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) refers to self-soothing as a distress tolerance technique, emphasizing learning to bear pain skillfully. Self-soothe techniques are skills that seem simple, and you may already use them. They involve using your five senses to help cope with distressing emotions and experiences, and they can bring you back into the present moment. There are many techniques to choose from, but try some out and see which are most comfortable and helpful for you!
Sight: Look at nature, look at art, stargaze, walk mindfully, read a book, try a word search, crossword, or puzzle, watch the snowflakes, light a candle and watch the flame, watch a comforting video or show, look at pictures of family/friends/pets.
Hearing: Listen to soothing music, listen to sounds of nature (waves, birds, rainfall, leaves rustling), sing your favorite song, play a musical instrument, or listen to an audiobook or a podcast. When you're listening, make sure you're practicing doing so mindfully!
Taste: Have a special treat, cook a favorite meal, drink a soothing drink like herbal tea or hot chocolate, and remember to eat and drink mindfully by eating slowly and paying attention to all of the different flavors.
Touch: Pet your dog or cat, take a bubble bath, wear fresh warm clothes from the dryer, get a massage, put lotion on, use a cold compress on the forehead/back of the neck, wear a soft material (fleece, silk, cotton), use a cozy blanket, hug a stuffed animal.
Smell: Bake something and mindfully enjoy the smell, walk in a garden or in the woods and enjoy the smells of nature, light a scented candle or incense.
When you continuously practice self-soothing techniques when experiencing intense emotions, you may find that your relationship with these feelings changes. Whichever self-soothing exercises you choose to try, be sure to do it mindfully in attempting to experience it fully. You deserve to feel comforted during times of distress even if your mind tells you that you don't. Try one this week and see how it feels!
Adapted from Linenhan, M. M. 2015. DBT Skills Training: Handouts and Worksheets, 2nd edition. Guildford Press.