The holidays are a bit of a set up for everyone. There is this expectation that we will have a magical experience together with our families. Everyone’s tired and stressed out and then we add more stress with a big dinner with everyone together. We then have a million different opinions about COVID, politics, and then a group of people with a variety of coping strategies from quietly repressive to giant and explosive. Really, it’s a miracle if you have a family Holiday get-together full of peace and joy.
One of my favourite Christmas traditions with my husband’s family was getting an annual Smuckers Jazzy Christmas (SJC) album from his brother and family. For 19 years, my brother-in-law would burn a CD with a selection of Jazzy Christmas songs and frame it with a cheeky photo of their cat Smuckers. The annual CD is the reason we still have a CD player. Sadly, Smuckers passed away a few years ago, but he still lives on every Christmas. Last night I was listening to SJC #16 and I was sipping a glass of wine and listening to Leslie Odom Jr. sing Favorite Things, and I could feel my heart open and I started to relax. The song was so enjoyable and soothing and I reflected that (say what?!) this song was about self-soothing. If that voice is familiar – he’s the original Burr in Broadway’s Hamilton.
I’ve been seeing a strong theme of emotional overwhelm this past month, and when we’re overwhelmed, it’s hard to problem-solve or see a path forward. For those times when our nervous systems are stuck in fight-flight or freeze, self-soothing can be a great tool to provide even an iota of ease into our lives.
I was listening to Abby Wambach and Glennon Doyle chat with Alex Elle about How To Heal on their podcast – We Can Do Hard Things. Besides being a great conversation about the ups and downs of healing, this podcast also talked about self-soothing. What is it? What has been shown as culturally appropriate self-soothing and what’s not? Do you even know how you self-soothe? They share their own journeys with self-soothing and how it’s helped them in times of overwhelm.
During the holidays and/or times of overwhelm, self-soothing is a practical tool to have with you.
10 Ideas for Self-Soothing
The easiest way to come up with ideas is to use your 5 senses. Which senses are you most drawn to – taste, smell, touch, sound, or sight? Here are 2 ideas for each sense for the month of December.
First off, taste is always a tricky one – it requires a little self-reflection about what’s actually soothing to you and what’s actually numbing. When in doubt about it’s impact on you, don’t choose anything with caffeine or alcohol.
- Drink a cup of herbal tea or something cool and refreshing
- Eat something slowly – e.g. one holiday sweet or a clementine
- Pick an essential oil or perfume and smell it. Or put a small amount on your wrist so that you can discretely smell it when you need to.
- Go for a walk and smell the fresh air
- Wear something that feels soft and cozy
- Pet a cat or dog
- Listen to one song by one of your favourite artists
- Listen to nature sounds on YouTube or wherever you get your music
- Look at a piece of art
- Look at photos on your phone that make you smile
Getting to know what is soothing for you is a personal journey. Sometimes our preferences change over time. One thing will be soothing for one person and soul-grating to another. Experiment.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take 60 seconds and ask yourself, “What do I need for the next 5 minutes?” Go with your instinct. Or just close your eyes and see where your finger lands on the selection of ideas in this post.
Bonus if you can find things where you can soothe yourself in multiple ways – e.g. a walk outside can touch multiple senses.
Whether you’re having a family get-together this season or you’re at home alone, what can you bring to your day that’s self-soothing for you?