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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Self Soothing Techniques to Use When You're Feeling Distressed

As I've mentioned in prior blog posts, usually when clients begin psychotherapy with me, I like to know what emotional resources they already have before we begin trauma work.  I also like to know how resilient they are already or if they need help to develop resilience.  If they have little in the way of internal and external resources, I usually teach them ways to take care of themselves between sessions, including meditation, certain self help EMDR techniques, and using pleasant memories and images of relaxing places to help them relieve unpleasant emotional and physical activation between sessions.

Self Soothing Techniques to Use When You're Feeling Distressed
I'm also continually amazed at what clients already know on an intuitive level with regard to self care.  They might not even realize that what they're doing is calming themselves because they do it so  automatically with little or no awareness.

For instance, some clients know instinctively to put their hands over their hearts or their stomachs as a way to sooth themselves.  When they're doing this, they often don't realize that they've touched themselves to soothe themselves.  But, sitting across from them, I can see that, after they've made this gesture, their faces look calmer, their breathing is easier, there's more color in their faces, and they appear more present in the room.

When I point this out to clients and ask them to verbalize how they experience these gestures, they usually say that they're surprised that they're feeling better.  Often, these gestures seem so basic, but they can be powerful in terms of transforming how they feel physically and emotionally.  By verbalizing the experience, clients learn what's useful and it can become an emotional resource that they can use in the future.  Also, the act of verbalizing it helps the client to integrate the experience on both a physical and emotional level.

Other simple movements that can be soothing emotionally and physically include:  moving your neck (looking from side to side to help alleviate muscle tension in the neck and a feeling of emotional constriction); pressing your feet on the floor to feel more grounded; feeling the back of the chair against your back and how supportive this feels; and feeling how the weight of your body is supported by the chair you're sitting in.

Dance therapists know that movement can be very healing.  In order to use movement as a self soothing technique, you don't have to be a dancer or go to a dance therapist.  Very simple movements can shift how you feel.  For instance, if you're feeling emotionally and physically constricted in your chest, you might try slowly and gently moving your arms out to your side and then raising your arms up along the sides of your ears (keeping your shoulders down).  If you've ever done the Sun Salutation in yoga, you'll recognize this simple movement.  Most people find that moving your arms in this way helps to open up their chest, giving some relief on both a physical and emotional level.

Likewise, loosening up the joints, where a lot of tension is often stored, can help to release the tension.  Both yoga instructors and Reiki practitioners know we often hold a lot of emotion in our joints and simple, very gentle movements can be so beneficial.

The simple act of exhaling can also release stress and agitation.  Most of us will let out large sighs, sometimes without even realizing it, when we're experiencing stress or agitation.  The exhalation is a form of emotional and physical discharge.

In a prior blog post, I discussed Square Breathing as another form of self soothing that people can use when they're anxious or having a panic attack (see the link below).

We all need supportive people in our lives for our well-being, especially during distressing times.  But knowing that there are self soothing techniques that we can use when other people might not be around is, in itself, empowering because we know that we can take care of ourselves.  And self care is an important part of maintaining our well-being.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up  consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.

Also, see my article: Learning to Relax: Square Breathing

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