Episode 93 Self-Soothing Practices For Emotional Regulation: Solo Episode by Chris McDonald

Dec 14, 2022

How can you calm your emotional dysregulation? What are some self-soothing techniques that you can start using today?


  • What is self-soothing? 2:09
  • Using touch as a self-soothing technique? 8:55
  • Transitioning into affirmations 14:07
  • Breathwork as a self-soothing technique 18:45

What Is Self-Soothing?

  • When is a good time to practice self-soothing techniques?
  • Learning to recognize your emotional triggers
  • The importance of allowing space to check in with yourself
  • Recognizing unhealthy self-soothing practices

Using Touch As A Self-Soothing Technique?

  • Why is it important to avoid cognitive strategies, initially
  • The importance of starting with physical techniques to calm our nervous system
  • Physical touch technique walk-through
  • Finding what works best for you

Transitioning Into Affirmations

  • Integrating affirmations into your self-soothing process
  • What do you need to hear right now to calm yourself?
  • The practice of being present to communicate with the sensations you are feeling
  • What is interoceptive awareness and how to practice it

Breath Work As A Self-Soothing Technique

  • Connecting to your breath as an anchor
  • Breathwork technique walk-through 
  • How to integrate all of your senses into self-soothing
  • Creating a self-soothing kit for yourself

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Chris McDonald:  This is Holistic Counseling, the podcast for mental health therapists who want to deepen their knowledge of holistic modalities and build their practice with confidence. I'm your host, Chris McDonald, licensed therapist. I am so glad you're here for the journey.

Welcome to today's episode of the Holistic Counseling Podcast. I'm your host, Chris McDonald. Man, I don't know about you, but it's been a bit stressful around here. Right before I hit record, I was having all these issues and didn't think I'd even be able to record today. So there is nothing more of a trigger for me than technology issues.

I think I got it straight, so hopefully this recording will work out. , it's also been a bit hectic for me as I'm recording this. It's the holidays, so that always brings its own amount of stress and new things that we. Get to do some of it's fun like decorating, but again, it takes a lot of time and a lot of time management.

I'm finding I have a lot less time this year, so whew. I am doing my best. But that brings me to today's episode as I juggle all this, as I know you are juggling a lot too. That it can be overwhelming. Our jobs, right? Our careers, managing family, just normal day to day, getting to the grocery store, making dinner, keeping up with cleaning, all that stuff.

And that can lead to a lot of overwhelm. So for today's episode, I'm going to go into some self soothing strategies that can help ease the overwhelm. I use a lot of these with myself. I need it too. And I think that you are gonna benefit, and these are just some simple, holistic, self soothing that you can use today, and I'm gonna give them in a certain order because holistically, it's really important that these are done in a certain order.

I'll get more to that later. But first, let's rewind for a moment. And this is a solo episode. Uh, so I just wanted to share today with you without a guest, since this is something that I have really researched and learned a lot about and feel like I am kind of an expert on this. So if I must say so myself.

So what is it? Right? What is self soothing? Cause of course, As therapists, we always wanna help other people to feel better and to soothe, but we gotta bring it to ourselves. So self soothing is how you calm yourself, how you manage those big emotions that we all get at times. Think of it as that emotional regulation that you can use.

To bring your body back to equilibrium, otherwise known as homeostasis. So either if you're feeling very anxious and if we think of the window of tolerance, right? So if we're out of our window of tolerance and we feel that anxiety and it's really hard to manage, you might feel a lot of sensation in your chest or belly or in your back, or if we're more in shutdown.

On the lower end and we might just be in freeze mode and it's really difficult to think and we're moving very slow. Our motivation's low, more depression. So this is always a great time to use some self soothing. So when is a good time, right? Like I said, once you feel those sensations is a good time, when you're feeling overwhelmed.

And it could be even sadness, grief, anxiety, or just knowing, feeling something's off in your nervous system. And this is all about nervous system regulation. I know getting bad news can be a time to use some self soothing, especially something that you weren't expecting that can really trigger you and just kind of throw you for a loop as you're trying to process and understand whatever the bad news is, if it's about you.

Or a family member. I know for me recently, something that really triggered me is my mother-in-law has Alzheimer's and she's been hanging in there and, you know, it's been a gradual decline, but unfortunately my husband went, uh, this past November to visit her up in Boston and she has declined a lot and they're looking at right now, Increasing her to a higher level of care, whether that's a home health aid or other things, they're not sure.

So it just, even though I wasn't there to see her, but to hear from my husband about all that, I'm getting choked up right now as I talk about this. There's my right need for something right now because it's. Difficult when we have a loved one seeing them decline like that and they're not who they are, especially with dementia or Alzheimer's.

It's so painful to see and to witness that and, and she's not the same person. That's just so hard. It's just, I can feel right now my chest that heaviness. Or if maybe bad news for you could be getting bad health news. I know that can. Very upsetting or of a family member. Sometimes we just gotta pause and sit with it and I'll get to what we do with that next, for the soothing part.

So yeah, just sitting with that in a moment, recognizing that can be the first part. Of self soothing, allowing space. Cuz if you're busy, busy, busy on the go, I'm just gonna see all my clients all day and not take a moment to check in with myself or just to be, then you're missing a very important thing, and that's one way you can look out for yourself is to do those check-ins during the day and.

Where am I right now? But if you don't allow that space, you're not gonna know. Right? There's gonna be that disconnect between you and your emotions and physical sensations, and it's gonna be much harder to tune in to what's going on with yourself. Same with clients, right? Many get into that busy, busy mode and don't stop and pause cause, okay.

So the bad news can be one for sure, or as a therapist maybe. , you had a difficult session with a client and that brought up a whole bunch of stuff for you, and maybe what you were trying to do to help them didn't work, or maybe they were just being extremely difficult. I've had that before. I had one client who, uh, I don't know how to say this nicely,

He was really getting on me about saying that whenever I would reframe something or summarize, he's like, you're just repeating it back to me. Getting on about everything and challenging everything, and that just brought up so much tension in me. Sometimes it doesn't go well, and that's okay. We all have those days when clients just, it's just not aligning.

Or maybe you have a new client and, oh my Lord, that was the longest intake of your life. We've all been there and it's just, it was not you guys were. Really commuting on the same level and it was so hard. That can bring up a lot of our stuff, and you can really feel that mentally, physically, spiritually, everything.

Emotionally, it's just all there, or just having a bad day. Right. In general, personally and professionally. And maybe things have gone wrong for you from the moment you got up this morning and nothing seems to be going right, or maybe somebody. Got in your face about something. I know I had a client that had an overdue bill and she ended up screaming at me on the phone and it did not go well.

Let's just put it that way. And for me, when people scream at me or yell at me, that's really triggering and it's just I start shaking and just have a hard time dealing with that. So I guess just like our clients, we gotta know what are our triggers? What are those moments that it's like, whoa, I need to really check in with myself and.

Find some ways to self soothe. Cause it is hard, right? This, these, this job, we never know what each day's gonna bring and how it's gonna go and what could possibly go wrong. So it's better to equip yourself with some of these holistic strategies to help get you through so you can get back to that homeostasis.

Cause I know it's. Especially hard if you don't have a lot of time in between sessions or something happens to get yourself in a better space for the next client. I know that, I found that to be very challenging, but let's, let's, let's look at before we. Jump into the strategies. One other thing I wanted to mention was there is some unhealthy self soothing, and of course this is one way that people are doing the best they can.

So sometimes people do choose alcohol or drugs, and of course that's not, um, best for our systems overall, not good for our bodies, not good for our emotional state. It's only a temporary fix. Some people might binge watch TV or scrolling compulsively. On your phone or on the internet kind of checking out, which, you know, in moderation, there's nothing wrong with checking out a little bit, but if you're doing that for, I've had clients that do that for four or five hours, then they're really avoiding dealing with those difficult emotions.

So just, just wanted to make a note of that. There are self soothing that is not as good for us. But I'm gonna talk today about some safe and healthy, self soothing, and these are simple things that you could do easily between sessions. So let's say that you're feeling activated after a session and you really need to get yourself back to some homeostasis, at least temporarily.

And that's okay too. We can't expect if we only get 10 minutes to, you know, really work through that. But maybe just to regulate and calm your nervous system just a little. Some yoga poses can be very helpful and I always start with touch, I think for self soothing. I think that's so essential. Cause what you don't wanna do is jump to cognitive strategies.

And why is that? Because in our brains, once we are in that fight or flight, that our front of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, where our logic and reasoning and talking is goes offline. And it's much harder to connect with thinking. And you probably have felt that when you're highly emotional. Like, oh my God, I can't think.

I couldn't think. I couldn't process. I was just feeling so much emotion. And I know a lot of, you may be familiar with this already, but just remembering that we don't wanna jump to. Using just cognitive strategies first for self. So things, so starting with physical first to kind of calm that nervous system.

So if we wanna move to the affirmations that we're a little calmer, that we're able to think and able to process and able to install that into our nervous systems and our bodies. So the first pose that I'm gonna teach you is to take one of your hands, right or left hand, doesn't matter. Put it on your chest.

And then the other hand on your belly. And if you're uncomfortable touching yourself, you can just have them hover above and just have them sit there for a moment and just notice how this feels in your body. I know some people, it's hard to be comfortable with touching your body at all, so just having them hovering above with that intention of wanting to sue you is okay too.

And while they're here, you can do some gentle tapping on your chest if you'd like. This can be soothing too. Just the gentle tapping

and just kind of noticing how that feels to comfort yourself. You can just do some gentle massage. Do some slow circles with your hand along your chest Massage. Self massage can be also soothing, just getting yourself in that present moment, awareness. Being here.

Yeah. Just noticing how that feels and, and I often have clients sit in this pose to wait and see how they feel. And this is the hardest part because there usually will be something that can come up from the nervous system. To let you know that things are coming down, whether a deeper breath, a yawn, it could be maybe just feeling a little less sensation, feeling calmer, less heart rate going down, but it is that internal watching and noticing.

Another thing you can do is to put one hand on your forehead, across your forehead, and then one hand on the back of your neck, and this is another holding. We call these holding poses and just wait. For some reason, having my hand on the back of my neck really seems to calm things and I don't know why.

so you may find that too, that you try some of these and they don't work. That's okay. Just keep, keep trying, experimenting, see what works for you if this feels triggering. Of course, we don't wanna turn you into that sympathetic activation, so move your hands. Of course, if, if it doesn't work for you. Just noticing how that feels.

You could also have one on the back of your neck and one on your belly or on your chest. Just notice differences with that and just waiting. Noticing any shifts, sometimes you have to do that for a few minutes. We're not gonna do that here, but these are things you can practice once you're done with this episode or pause it if you wanna do that right now, and just wait and notice.

Just being in the moment, allowing space. And if you wanna go into putting both hands on your chest, just like a butterfly, butterfly hug, like an emdr, if you are familiar with that. And then gentle bilateral tapping. So going from left to right, nice and slow. Slow tapping, helps calm the nervous system.

Just taking your time, not rushing through it. Sometimes the tapping alone can be what really helps soothe,

or if you prefer, a tapping can be done on your legs, so putting your hands on your thighs and just tapping back and forth gently just tapping and noticing.

I want you notice any shift. You can go to the affirmation if you like. What do you need to hear right now? Maybe it's something like, I'm doing the best I can. I will get through this. I'm okay. This is temporary. Think about what you need to hear to calm yourself. Good. Just noticing in that noticing place, and you can move your hands and just allow them to rest gently on your lap.

If you are activated right now, this is something you can try too. Let's say that you're feeling it more in your back. So notice for you, where do you feel the sensation? You would put your hand on that part, on your back, or if you feel it somewhere else, put it on that space and just stay there. Talk to the sensation.

Just saying, I am here for you. I will help you Feel understood. I am here. I am allowing you to be present. Or asking, what message do you have for me asking the sensation and getting into that intuition or higher self? What is the message that I should know about this sensation or difficult emotion? What do I need to hear?

And, and again, if you need to pause and do this so you can have a little more time to practice. Or what message do you wanna tell? The sensation or emotion it could be coming back to, I am here. I am present. Okay, I go ahead and move your hand away from that sensation and let's just take a pause that interceptive awareness.

Just notice where are you now? Hopefully you are able to take a few minutes if you are able to pause the episode and and practice some of these skills, just notice on that scale, one to 10, has the sensation or motion gone down at all? Notice where you are right now. And once you're able to calm things down in the nervous system a little bit, hopefully moving in the direction of homeostasis, sometimes it helps to move.

And that's often what I do in between sessions or sometimes even to start my day and, and one way to do that is just shake things out. So standing up and you can start shaking your right hand. You can do it seated too if you want, in your right arm, just shaking. This helps calm the nervous system and then shaking the left hand.

Left arm shaking both arms over the head. You can make circles get creative balance on one foot and shake one right leg. Let's say balance on the left foot, shaking the leg and the foot and the arms at the same time, and then shifting your weight to the right foot, shaking the left foot, left leg while you shake.

Continue shaking the arms. And then both feet on the floor letting all the shaking go, gently bounce on the front of your feet. And this helps to calm the nervous system. Get the parasympathetic nervous system activated, releasing some of that energy, and then coming to stillness and noticing where are you?

Tuning in. Are you feeling any better yet, or is it the same or worse? And it's okay. Wherever you are is okay, and sometimes you might need more. Sometimes touch is not enough. Sometimes shaking it out isn't enough. And that's where gentle movement could come in. Some gentle yoga. We're not gonna go through any sequence right now, but that might be, it might be a good time to even just inhale bringing your arm up, exhaling it, bringing it down.

Just go opposite arms and then inhale the other arm up, exhaling it down, and then bringing both arms up at the same time. After you do that, a few, few minutes and once you do the touch and then some gentle movement, moving onto breath, breath work. So we don't always start with breath work, cuz if we're too activated it can be difficult to connect to the breath.

So right now just connect to your breath. Just see if you can follow it. Use that as an anchor. Noticing your chest rising on the inhale, falling on the exhale. Just notice that for a moment or if you prefer to follow your belly on the inhale belly rising. Exhale, belly falling.

And one way to tune into the breath is just to, without counting, you don't have to get too fancy, is just to allow your exhale to extend a little bit longer than the inhale. This is what's, this is what helps calm the nervous system as well, helps that relaxation response. So inhale and then have a longer exhale than the inhale, letting it out breathing.

A little bit longer than usual, and do that again, inhaling

and then exhaling. Extending the exhale. And one more time. Inhaling

and exhaling. And just letting that breath go back to its natural rhythm and pace. And of course right here you can also do any other breath work that you're familiar with that helps you, whether that's counting breaths or maybe three part breath, if you're familiar with that. And again, pausing to notice where you are.

Another part of self soothing is to get into the senses, and I feel like this is kind of similar to grounding practices, right? We use a lot of sensory to kind of get us back into ourselves, into our bodies. Just noticing how do we do that? So let's start with visuals, and we call this resourcing and brain spotting.

So seeing what's around you, seeing a color that's relaxing, a photograph I know in front of me, I have a picture of a lighthouse that always brings me. With a pretty sunrise could be pictures of family looking at flowers in your environment. It could be just lighting a candle, watching the flame. If you have a window looking outside at nature, looking at the trees, the birds, if you have woods just looking, noticing it can help you to get outside.

Change your environ. Go for a walk. Walking helps that cross lateral movement, which helps with integration in the brain can calm things down as well. Of course, getting that fresh air, doing some breathing once you go outside can be helpful. And then hearing, so turning on some calming music or if you're more in shutdown, maybe something more invigorating, more energetic.

You could also do some chanting or humming, which can help with the vagus nerve stimulation, which again, that helps the nervous system to calm down sound healing. So if you have any singing bowls to use those or drumming. And smell. I know I have in my shower right now, this amazing scent that is so relaxing and I just love to put out my hands and just inhale and just breathe it in as I feel the wonderful shower warm water be bearing down on me.

Or you could use some essential oils, keeps them available on your desk.

Make some cookies. Have that scent go through your house and then taste we like. We can't forget taste, so having a mint tea or some other soothing drink, like a hot chocolate or coffee if you like, flavored coffee, reaching for some gum. Again, these can kind of soothe ourselves. Take us out of that strong emotion.

I'm coming back to touch again. Sometimes petting a pet, a dog cat, feeling the softness of their fur, putting a cold compress on your forehead or over your eyes. I like to do that on my neck. Wrapping yourself up in a blanket or a weighted blanket can be helpful as well. We can also use our imagination.

To help improve the moment with self soothing. So thinking about a relaxing place, maybe a place you've been or a place you wanna go, or creating an imaginary place that is calm for you. If you haven't done so already, do a meditation about going to a safe space, and then this is something you can activate when you.

And then coming to some self encouragement, rethinking the situation, telling yourself, you got this, it will be okay. This is temporary. I'm doing the best I can. How are this? Two shall pass? See, look, you connect with as far as self encouraging words. But sometimes it's a good idea to think of these things ahead of time before you're in that moment.

Cuz again, if the front of our brain goes offline, it can be difficult to know what to do. And you probably have this with clients where they're like, I forgot everything that you taught me. So having reminders, so creating a self soothing kit can be helpful. And using all those sensory things. Having the visual items could be postcards, pictures, you could even use art.

Pictures of art, creating your own art, having colored pencils, having candles in there for your smell, access to sounds, creating a playlist for yourself. I have one called Uplift for difficult Days, . So playing those songs that kind of get my mood a little bit better. Or calming music, spa music, putting mints or chocolates in the soothing kits, or going to a touch with that self massage.

Just rubbing your shoulders or arms. Soothing can also be journaling that can be soothing for emotionally, right? Getting everything out that we need to let go of releasing, and sometimes ending it with a mora. So mudras are those hand positions that we can use for meditation or just with breath work or a mantra like Angelie Moodra is what one is everybody's familiar with.

So that is prayer pose, but it could be as simple. Touching your forefinger to your thumbs and just putting those hands on your knees, as you say, crosslegged and meditation pose, and just breathe. See if that is soothing enough for you, and I hope you'll give yourself credit for listening to this episode cuz I know everybody's got a lot on their plate.

A lot going on. And give yourself that space and time allowing, right? So easy to get caught up in the busyness of our day and the activities and all we got to do without bringing that mindful moment, right? I think mindfulness can be so, such a part of the self soothing practices and just, I'm gonna challenge.

What is some self soothing that you could do each day? Maybe you already do some, but how could you up the a and t and do a little bit more? Cause again, knowing that the more you do, the more it's gonna help you to be regulated, right? To be the best therapist you can be, but also to be more effective with clients.

Remember, they pick upon your energy as well. So I know that was a lot, so I hope you can come back to this episode two, if you didn't have enough time to practice everything and, and these are skills that take some time to get used to. But this brings us to the end of another episode. But I wanna thank you for being a listener.

And of course, if you haven't gotten mine free nine part email course Becoming Holistic Counselor co two holistic counseling podcast.com today, and sign up. And this is Chris McDonald's, sending each one of you much light. Until next time, take care. Thank you for listening and supporting the Holistic Counseling Podcast.

If you're loving this podcast, please share with your colleagues so we can continue to grow our holistic community. Also, are you ready to take the next step to create an integrative counseling practice? I invite you to sign up for my free nine part email course, becoming a Holistic Counselor. In this course, you'll explore different holistic strategies, how to develop your skills as a holistic counselor.

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