All over social media and the news we find ourselves bombarded with ways we are told to cope with our emotions during this pandemic. The tips are endless: take a bath, go on walks, play with pets, listen to music, read a book, do a face mask…
These tips are often pointing us in the direction of self-soothing: using one of our five senses to relax and provide ourselves with comfort. Comfort and relaxation are certainly part of what we all need right now. In the face of uncertainty and lack of control, we need just the smallest sliver of comfort that we can get. We need a distraction and a way to turn off our brains, if only for a little while.
Self-soothing is a useful skill for all of us. You’ll almost always catch me using sounds to overcome silence – the TV is on, or a song is playing, no matter what I’m doing. After a long day at work, when I’m all drained from emotions, I enjoy the feeling of a bubble bath and listening to my relaxation playlist.
Yet, sometimes self-soothing just doesn’t work. Sometimes it isn’t the skill we need. Sometimes it allows us to avoid our emotions altogether, and we never ask what’s really going on with us. Sometimes it can even escalate into destructive or compulsive behaviors like drinking, drug use, self-injury, nail biting, teeth grinding, overuse of exercise, or binge eating.
No matter how many bubble baths I take, the Coronavirus is still going to be out there. I still won’t know when I’ll finally be able to see the people I love in person again, and that’s scary. The tension in some of my relationships doesn’t just go away once I turn on the bathwater. Sometimes, we can’t find comfort when we’re feeling helpless, out of control, and scared.
So, what do we do?
Experience Your Emotion: We can try to lean into the discomfort of our emotions. It’s okay to feel pain, and we can learn to handle it. We may only be able to take ten seconds or a few minutes at a time, but that’s okay. The more we practice feeling our emotions, the stronger we get. The fact is, our feelings are important; they’re telling us something is wrong right now. We need to listen to them, and sometimes we must do that without wrapping them in a fuzzy blanket.
Try a New Sensation: We can challenge ourselves to try something new. If I’m always looking to fill the silence, how can I learn to sit in it? For me, I have practiced sitting outside and observing nature. Consider which of the five senses you tend towards, and consider trying a different one. We may find more comfort in a new sensation and experience.
Make Sure to Problem-Solve: We also need to be able to soothe ourselves and then follow-up with problem-solving. With so much out of our control, we can consider what is in our control. We have control over who we connect with and when we connect with them. We can control our efforts and what we decide to invest our emotional energy into. We can shift our focus to the present moment rather than focusing on the future. We can practice radical acceptance by giving ourselves kindness for all the things with which we are struggling.
Build a Sense of Accomplishment: We can also work on a different skill that provides a sense of control and productivity by finding an activity that makes us feel accomplished. Many of my friends have invested time in learning to play an instrument, and I’m baking and cleaning more. There are programs like SkillsShare that can help with this. Think of something that would give you a sense of purpose and enjoyment.
For those of us that easily rely on self-soothing, it is essential to remember that we have so many other skills that can help us. Self-soothing can also be a great reward for us after we challenge ourselves. Either way, know that you can take care of yourself and the emotions you are feeling.