Many people are taught to mindlessly distract themselves to self-soothe. These temporary solutions like emotional eating can become the source of distress. For this reason, I just finished the audiobook for 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food by Susan Albers (who also wrote EatQ, the first book I summarized in my 100% in 1% series). Although I’m familiar with many of the techniques described in this book, I found it very helpful to have them listed together with practical advice.
Albers states we learned self-soothing from our primary caregivers and others early on. Interestingly then, if you did not get hugs when you were younger, a hug now may not help. You also may not have been taught how to talk yourself down. Or perhaps you taught yourself through trial and error. According to attachment theory, you can strengthen these skills at any point in your life.
Practice healthier coping mechanisms so you’re good at them by the time you need them.
At first, you don’t have to change your behaviour, just mindfully observe your eating patterns for at least a week. Go at your own pace. Pay attention to your feelings, observing urges. Take baby steps. Shape your behaviour by rewarding gradual steps. You don’t have to do anything perfectly, just do something close to the desired behaviour. When you’re ready, fully engage in the behaviour to get familiar and habituated.
Take an inventory of your most successful soothing techniques to leverage your strengths. Every morning, check in with yourself and make a self-soothing forecast to prepare accordingly. Check before eating if you have emotional or physical hunger.
If you don’t know what to do in an emotional emergency, choose one technique from each of the five areas below to cover all needs. Try techniques more than once because they may be more helpful in different circumstances.
1. Create mindful moments. Stop and mindfully smell the roses, noticing sensations. Try a mindful walk.
2. Practice meditating. There are many meditation styles to help clear your mind. The relaxation response reverses the fight-or-flight response.
3. Breathe. Mindful breathing draws your attention away from stressful thoughts. Talk to yourself about how to breathe well.
4. Strengthen your endurance to counter stress eating. Slow down and make conscious choices. Create a 5-10 minute gap between feeling an urge to eat and responding to it.
5. Let go of thoughts and urges. This is different from pushing away. Acknowledge and release. Change your position, shake your body, and imagine thoughts falling away.
6. Set the inner critic straight. Direct kind words to yourself and others with compassion.
7. Be right here, right now. Stay in the room by being aware of it, playing “I Spy” with all your senses.
8. Create spiritual moments.
9. Enjoy virtual bliss. Use guided imagery to visualize a safe, peaceful place. If you find yourself imagining eating, visualize yourself walking away and doing a healthier activity.
10. End hide-and-seek feelings. Accept the entire situation without trying to fight how you feel. Look up resources on radical acceptance.
Change your Thoughts
11. Make journaling a habit. Narrative therapy helps you see your feelings from a different perspective. Also describe or draw positive memories to plan how to feel positively again.
12. Laughter is a physical release that relieves tension. Find the natural humour in a difficult situation. It boosts the immune system and decreases stress. Mood-elevating benefits are similar to those of exercise.
13. Reframe failures into missteps, teaching moments. Write down negative words to describe the situation and replace them with positive words.
14. Daydream about happy things. Steady yourself with mental control. Create a vision board of the kind of soothing you want.
15. Worry mindfully. Book 20 minutes to focus on worry; don’t do anything else. Do something you can do in the moment that feels productive. Try worry beads.
16. Zone out mindfully. Give yourself permission to rest your mind. Try simple activities like flipping through a magazine or just close your eyes.
17. Shelf a problem to deal with it at a specific time, when you’re ready. Handle one thing at a time.
18. Find your security blanket. Take comfort in a transitional object that holds special meaning for you. Keep it close by.
19. Repeat soothing affirmations to retrain for optimistic and confident thinking. For example: “When I take care of my body, I am respecting myself” or “I am going to feel less stressed any minute; I can hang in until then.”
20. Address perfectionism. Let go of black and white thinking and be realistic.
Change your Body
21. Pamper and calm your senses. Try 30 minutes of sunlight, tea time, a warm or cold washcloth, cocooning in blankets, listening to fountains, or wearing your favourite outfit.
22. Rejuvenate with soothing scents. Investigate 100% essential oils like lavender, chamomile, and rose. Try postponing giving into cravings for the length of time it takes for a scented tea light to burn out. Even sniffing coffee beans can help.
23. Practice yoga for mind-body connection. Become an expert on just one pose at first, like the “perfect” pose or the “warrior” pose. Commit to 10 minutes of yoga before giving into an urge.
24. Sweat at the life gym. Acknowledge how you move in your everyday life, like cleaning, climbing stairs, and having sex. Increase just a bit, like doing jumping jack during commercials.
25. Sleep on it. Be mindful 7-9 hours of sleep is optimal for your health. If you can’t sleep, take a rest closing your eyes and breathing deeply.
26. Soak away stress with hot mindful baths at night. Allow yourself to be keenly aware of what is happening to your body, bringing your thoughts away from worries. Try the same approach just holding your hands under water in a sink.
27. Clean out the urge to eat. Keep your mind and body engaged with a productive activity.
28. Turn off the carnival in your head. When you feel overwhelmed, reduce stimulation from cell phones, talk radio, or music, for instance. Find a dark, quiet refuge.
29. Try self-hypnosis. Verbally walk your body through steps to relax, as with progressive muscle relaxation.
30. Be your own masseuse. You can roll a tennis ball under your feet and behind your shoulders.
31. Consider emotional Band-Aids. Sometimes the craving is for something in your mouth and the act of eating. Try chewing a breath mint, gum, straw, or pen and drink plenty of water.
32. Shop. If you eat as reward or pampering, retail therapy may be a healthier option within reason. Make a list of small, affordable pick-me-ups like sunglasses, books, or lip balm.
33. Flood your brain with stimulation from movies.
34. Knit it out. Even braiding yarn can keep your hands occupied and your mind calm.
35. Make a bucket list. It helps you see the big picture, plus the planning is both fun and motivating.
36. Self-soothe in crafty ways. Create a craft nook to make jewelry, cards, or soap, for example. Start an ongoing project like a family scrapbook to do a little at a time.
37. Explore cyberspace.
38. Listen to meditative music. Play your favourite songs of similar tempo for at least 20 minutes.
39. Weed out the urge to eat. Take care of plants’ needs in a symbolic way.
40. Try mini mental challenges. Try puzzles like sudoku, crosswords, jigsaw, or solitaire. They increase neural connections to help you handle unhealthy urges more logically.
41. Get a buddy. Choose one or two friends who want to help you and can use your help. Be proactive and interact regularly. Spend more time with nonjudgmental people and less time with toxic people who guilt and criticize you.
42. Join the blogosphere. Reading others’ blogs gives you new perspective and relating to issues in common. Writing on Facebook and Twitter can help too.
43. Vent. It forces you to create a coherent story about your emotions, understanding the reasons something made you upset, and it makes you feel good to be heard. You can also write a letter you don’t send or talk to a mirror.
44. When you are alone, you can think of someone supportive even if they are not available and imagine what they would say to you.
45. Try pet therapy. Walk, play, or pet your pet or your neighbour’s.
46. Step into someone else’s shoes. Practice acting like a positive role model who soothes themselves in healthy ways.
47. Block boredom eating. Try something new like joining a new club or class, practicing a new skill, listening to new music, or wearing a new outfit.
48. Benefit from healing touch. Hug. Ask someone to pat your back or hold hands. Use pillows or a soft chair.
49. Volunteer. This can be the most gratifying thing you can do. It can be as simple as giving a genuine compliment.
50. Connect, even when you want to crawl under the covers. Make appointments for brief social engagements in the near future and don’t cancel. Smile. Go places where people naturally gather.