C5.U4.S38 - Self Soothing Distress Tolerance
Updated: Jun 3
"Early trauma, in infancy, childhood, or even before birth, is believed to influence the programming of the body’s stress activation system (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal or HPA system), making the set point lower than it is for those who do not experience such trauma."
An article i have stolen because i'm not very good at words! :
Self-Soothing: Calming the Amygdala and Reducing the Effects of Trauma
One of the skills a young child must learn is to comfort himself when he is upset. One way he learns to do this is by being soothed by his parents or caregivers. Touch and holding are two ways caregivers comfort children. Gradually the child learns ways to calm himself. These activities are critical for the healthy development of the young child. Adults may have others to comfort them as well, such as good friends who offer companionship or spouses who give hugs. But self-soothing is a basic skill important for emotional and physical well-being.
Self-soothing is particularly important for the emotionally sensitive, yet many don’t think about, forget, or discount the need for and effectiveness of self-soothing activities. In upset moments, it’s hard to think about calming yourself. Plus, self-soothing does not come naturally to everyone and requires thought and action. A stress response is a natural part of our survival pattern. The amygdala is believed to be the part of your brain that processes basic feelings. The amygdala plays a big role in sounding an alert for threatening situations and triggers fight or flight behaviors. This works well as long as there truly is a threat that you need to run away from or defend yourself against. Otherwise your body suffers from being on high alert when it doesn’t need that reaction.
Feeling like you are being threatened when you aren’t is unpleasant and exhausting. Those who have suffered traumatic experiences may find they are easily stressed and often are in the flight or fight state when there is no current danger. This may be because in addition to being part of the threat alert system, the amygdala also seems to be involved in emotional memories. The more intense the situation, the stronger the memory, according to Michael Jawer in his book, The Spiritual Anatomy of Emotion. Early trauma, in infancy, childhood, or even before birth, is believed to influence the programming of the body’s stress activation system (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal or HPA system), making the set point lower than it is for those who do not experience such trauma. The result is that people who have experienced early trauma are more hyper-vigilant and more likely to experience stressful reactions. They are prone to debilitating conditions such as migraines, allergies and chronic pain. Being more reactive to the world in general seems to result from early trauma. Active, purposeful self-soothing would tend to be more difficult for these individuals and also more necessary. Creating sensations that say there is no emergency helps calm the body’s alert system so the brain (prefrontal cortex) can regain its ability to think and plan. If you are sipping hot tea under a soft blanket or lazing in a bubble bath, then there must be no reason to run at full speed to the nearest cave! Whatever the reason or origin of emotional sensitivity, self-soothing can help. Marsha Linehan recognized the importance of self-soothing and included these skills when she developed Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Self-soothing is part of finding a middle ground, a gray area, between being detached or numb and experiencing an emotional crisis or upheaval. Allowing yourself to experience the uncomfortable emotions (without feeding them and making them more intense) enables the emotions to pass. Soothing yourself helps you tolerate the experience without acting in ways that are not helpful in the long run, or blocking the emotions, which makes the emotions grow larger or come out in ways you didn’t intend.
Know Your Self-Soothing Activities: Usually soothing activities are related to the senses. Different people are comforted in different ways and may prefer one sense over another. Sometimes what is soothing for one situation is not the same as what is soothing in a different situation.
When your alert system is firing danger, then physical activity may help, like playing a fast-moving game of racquetball or going for a walk.
When the upset is more about feeling hurt or sad, activities such as sipping hot tea or petting a dog may be more effective. The smell of apple pie baking, a beautiful sunset, the softness of a dog’s fur, the song of birds singing, the taste of chocolate or the sensation of rocking. Reading a good book can be soothing for some. Being with a good friend, someone you feel safe with and loved by, can be soothing.
Some may be best soothed by focusing on a specific sense. Some people are more visual than others and some are more auditory. Experiment with the different senses to see what works best for you. You may want to create a self-soothing box full of options that you know are effective for you. When you are upset hunting for a special song or even remembering what is soothing is difficult. Put a list of your self-soothing activities in the box along with some of the objects you might need.
Create Self-Soothing Experiences: A self-soothing experience involves more than one sense and have a overall feel of valuing the self. Having your favorite meal at a table set with cloth napkins and pretty dishes while listening to music you love would be a self-soothing experience for some. A bubble bath with your favorite scent, a favorite drink, and listening to a book on tape could also be a self-soothing experience.
Other Self-soothing Activities: Performing an act of kindness for others can be soothing, particularly if you are feeling disappointed in yourself. Often helping those who are less fortunate is effective in that situation too. Accomplishing tasks such as cleaning your house or organizing your closet can help with uncomfortable feelings. Writing, playing, and laughing can all be soothing by helping you detach and feel more in control of your emotional experience.
Focusing on your sense of meaning may be soothing. This meaning might be about knowing your purpose in life or it might be about a spiritual connection. Focusing on what is truly important to you can help you let the less important go. Consider prayer or meditation.
Finding out what works best for you through practicing self-soothing in different situations will help you manage your emotions more effectively. You may want a way of reminding yourself to self-soothe and what to do as people do not think clearly when upset. Motivation to self-calm in tense moments can be low.
This article pretty much hits the nail on the head for me ⬆⬆⬆⬆⬆
Dr Marsha Linehan explains ⬇⬇⬇
The really obvious stuff explained in the video below, obvious and second nature to people that are wired up correctly and well adjusted to life, taught life skills early on, but for the likes of me, although I felt somewhat patronized by these tips and pointers and practices at first, these self soothing exercises are vital because I (we) never learned to utilize theses coping skills as kids, they never became hard wired what so ever and so we (I) have been kicking off for years and years, causing all kinds of fucking mayhem because I didn't know to self sooth or to step the fuck back let alone HOW to self sooth or take it down a gear or two. I only learned how to argue and and get violent as a kid and young man. So here I am now, learning the skills to help me self sooth, calm down and shut up when appropriate.
I've been working hard on this for three years now with DBT. The practices, the structured exercises, the mindful meditative approach to this has changed me for the better I swear down! And I continue to practice. Indeed this lesson I am blogging about here is a repeat for me because I know now that its all about practice and being willing to put the therapy work in. This works. More work to be done though! ⬇⬇
We spoke about the need to monitor emotional regulation using a scale of 1 - 10. 1 being feeling calm and 10 feeling utterly bat shit.
Once ones emotional scale score gets to 5, its time to kick in the self soothing practices to distract and calm down before going nuclear. Calm down, don't reach number 7, save a whole load of pain and upset and suffering all round for everyone.
I can do this now most of the time reasonably effectively and not "go there".
When I couldn't, when I was really very ill with BPD and depression I had zero insight about calming down and not going there. I was Mr Angry.
DBT self soothing skills have turned this around.
If you are reading this blog to find out about self soothing and DBT because you are in a very angry place now, I implore you to find a DBT therapist and/or course , sign up and learn this shit. It works!
What I do to self sooth consciously, daily and by design when I feel my gears grinding:
If I'm feeling particularly pissy, if i have built up anger inside, something really bugging me on my mind going around and around driving me to aggression, I hit the gym or go for a cycle or hike or hit the krav maga mats at the sport center and get some intense exercise in to get the anger out. It clears my mind, its calms me down and it hurts physically which feels good. Not to a self harm degree as in punishment but as in I can feel the burn, the accomplishment and I feel strong and alert. This all has a hugely positive knock on affect on my thinking, my mood and attitude and therefore has a hugely positive effect on how I behave towards myself and others. Affect/effect.
Doubled up with bellows points, music is hand in hand with gym for and cycling for me. Double whammy. Magic!
Gardening. that's another one. Really helps divert and focus my mind on the task at hand helps me chill out. Love it.
Music is maaahoosive in my life. Different music genres and moods for different needs but when i need to self sooth I know what i need to go to and what i need to avoid. Music at home, at work, in the gym, out and about, you name it. I have a play list on this website in the communication bit page thing somewhere that reflects my self soothing music moods. Music has got me through some really heavy dark shit and has helped me celebrate some really brilliantly happy joyful times and has been there just to chill the fuck out feeling calm.
When I'm in a mess though, when I have been actually suicidal, music has still been there and I've learned what to avoid when in a dire dark hellish hole. Music 💜
Also I find audio documentaries and audio book and comedy great self soothing tools. These are a bit more focused at helping me distract from my over thinking turbo drive mind. Really helps me turn off the mental chatter for a while and can help me sleep when my brain is just yokking on and on inside my skull even when i have asked it to shut the fuck up.
My current go too audio stuff is Alan Partridge stuff which is hilarious but some how calming as is Stuart Lee and I am listening to Naomi Kliens audio book Shock Doctrine which is political and heavy but really really takes my mind off a lot of anxiety inducing flotsom and jetsom in side my pea!
It works. It calms me down and it works when i need to take myself sway from a situation and bring it down a notch or 5.
Fuck it, here's a link to one of many of my spotify lists:
Art is a huge thing in my life.
More creating art than looking at exhibitions and things but the whole visual aspect of creating focuses my thoughts and physical attention on the material I am working with and takes me into a far more mindful calming place.
If I'm beginning to get on a funny BPD one, if I'm beginning to split on someone or I'm feeling paranoid, drawing or carving or photographic activity really helps to divert my energy away from that dark stuff and helps me to avert an unnecessary melt downs. I've got this locked down now, I know when to leave a situation and pick up a pen or chisel or my camera and fuck off for an hour or two. It's taken some hard work to get here though.
Being able to to do this has taken some really painful practice and determination but with DBT and support I have been able to really practice this and get to a point where I just do it, I just go. I stop arguing or pancaking or feeling abandoned or whatever and draw or carve or whatever and within 20 minutes I'm back down to a calmer altitude in my mind and ready to continue calmer. With in an hour or two of being creative to calm down, I'm back on the level. It works.
It's not entirely about vision that one I guess but equally about touch as stated below. Art for me is vision and touch and to a degree smell too when carving. It's all hand in hand.
Taking myself to a place of nature, especially a quiet peaceful spot with trees and/or water is super powerful and somehow helps to ease all the pains. Greenery, the ocean sparkling, tall trees etc just has a calming magical quality that slows the thinking and takes the edge off. When in these environments its of course doubled up with the elements and sound and feeling of the elements. It's a calming wonder drug.
I found these articles i was reading interesting:
Trees 💚 The mere sight of greenery will calm your nervous system, guaranteed :
Water 💙 The Benefits of Being Around Water:
Touch? A hot or cold shower really helps my moods and when I need to self sooth to shake myself out of a potential horrible mood (kick off), a shower is a go too tool and after a bad episode or even sometimes during a bad episode of depression having a shower, hot or cold depending on what kind of SNAFU I am having, really psychologically washes some pain away as daft as it sounds. That clean feeling is important to me because of the dirty feelings I experience due to my bla bla bla. Getting clean, getting cooler or hotter is great self soother.
Hugs. In the right moment, a hug and just being held is a thing that can stop me dead in my tracks and bring me down a few notches dramatically fast and effectively. Hugs not drugs and certainly not shrugs. Shrugs make it worse.
Sometimes just laying in bed foe while in a soft warm environment can help when I feel a mental one coming on. Especially in fresh clean linen. Just does the trick. Sometimes! depends what type of SNAFU I feel creeping up on me.
Carry on from here! ⬆⬆⬆⬆
Binge eating disorder (BED)
You will eat a lot of food in a short period of time on a regular basis if you have BED. As with bulimia, you won’t feel control of your eating. It is likely to cause you distress. You may feel disconnected and struggle to remember what you have eaten.
You turn to food when you have negative feelings if you are an emotional over eater. These can be feelings like anxiety or sadness. Eating the food may help you to feel comforted. Lots of people use food to help manage feelings, this is normal. But it may become a problem if this is the only management technique that you have. Or you are beginning to feel out of control. Emotional overeating can cause feelings of guilt and shame.
Food. This has been a problem since I was 13/14 perhaps as soon as I was feeding myself because the person who should have been watching and taking care of my diet wasn't. To busy wrapped in them selves. So food became a crutch, a go to comfort self soother. I was a very very fucked up kid and in a lot of pain that no one could be fucked to address and I didn't understand or understand how it worked, why I was so different and messed up and super angry. I understood or knew why to an extent as it didn't take Sigmund Freud to get to the bottom of that one but I was so so mixed up. It was horrid and painful and food became tool to cope with life. I did not know food had became that at the time as I had zero fucking insight to any of this however I knew deep down that some of my eating and alcohol consumption habits were somewhat "off". Long story short this never changed until literally last year having finally got the support and education I need and someone in my life to point out the elephants in the room and help me deal with those pesky old elephants. I love elephants! Just not those ones and not in my room.
Food, binge eating is a thing in my life. So I have to be super mindful now when tempted to turn to food, shit junk food with all the bad fats and sugar and salt and "junk" in it. And I am. My diet has changed and I no longer drink alcohol. Alcohol has been exactly the same but not just about the taste sensation obviously. I've skunked tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousand s of pounds on booze. utter waste really but sometimes it in fact got me through hugely depressive episodes wanting to off myself which is oxymoronic as its a depressive substance but the inebriation and social contact got me through all be it while killing me gently and getting myself in untold trouble and near death scrapes! It felt fun sometimes. It wasn't. Not any more. I have to be mindful though of not going there. It fucks me up now.
I must not self soothe using food and alcohol as a means of comfort. I feel so much healthier now for managing to get out of those ruts.
The occasional treat is fine but not as a self soothing tool.
Useful info on this topic:
Self soothing worksheets we are working with:
That'll do for this one. Job Jobbed innit.