We live in a world where there is a pretty constant stream of stimulation. And it’s easy to lose track of how often we experience the various stressors that show up in our lives on a daily, hourly basis. Whether it’s from a podcast, the radio, the news, interactions with others, parenting or work stress, or driving, … due to this continual exposure, it’s likely that our senses are increasingly heightened. And if we don’t pay attention to our own responses, we could fall into the trap of consistently feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Both of these have some jarring side effects on our bodies and moods after long periods of time.
A metaphor that comes to mind with continual frustrations is getting poked over and over in the same spot until there is a bruise. And once that bruise is created, it is tender and therefore more reactive to any kind of touch, even if it’s a light stoke instead of a poke the next time. When we are wounded, we are extra vulnerable and therefore defensive in an effort to protect ourselves. When one minor annoyance occurs, depending on how we respond to it, there is a risk for more of them to be noticed and therefore risks to our physical and mental health.
The cortisol conundrum
When we experience stress, cortisol is released. This hormone isn’t bad by any means, it’s a necessary part of our physiology. But it can be detrimental if it is released for an extended period of time. In fact, prolonged secretion of stress hormones can contribute to increased blood pressure, diabetes, and decreased immunity among other risks.
Levels of stress fall on a spectrum, but once our stress response is activated (like our fight, flight, or freeze responses), it actually takes at least 20 minutes for our cortisol levels to get back to normal. And that is IF we self-soothe to aid in that process. If we don’t soothe ourselves to lessen our cortisol, our levels may not go down enough to get back to baseline or may never go down at all. Or if there are repeated annoyances one after the other, those levels can easily activate and skyrocket quickly.
The good news is that we can shift our tolerance levels of stress. And doing so could increase our immunity and even lengthen our lifespans. In a world where there are constant stressors, it may take a bit more energy but is worthwhile for the sake of our health and longevity.
Self-soothing is necessary to complete the stress cycle and build habits of managing the inevitable stress we experience every day. There are many tactics out there for managing stress, but here are a few to consider:
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Breathing slowly: in for 4 seconds and out for 7 seconds
- Petting our pet
- Let yourself cry, like really sob cry
- Exercising (walking, running, dancing)
- Playing a game
- Laugh (watch a funny video or ask a friend for a joke)
- A creative outlet such as drawing, painting, pottery, etc.
Another coping skill that has been shown to calm the nervous system for those who suffer from depression, anxiety, phobias, and PTSD is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) or Tapping. This involves lightly tapping on nine acupoints on our body such as the collarbone, cheekbones, and top of the head. It is often paired with a mantra of some kind such as “I am anxious and I am safe and loved.” This mantra does two things: validates our emotional experience and keeps us from spiraling down a negative rabbit hole.
What matters most when self-soothing after is that our minds are distracted enough from the event to not continue ruminating on it. To clarify, we are not distracting ourselves in order to avoid it. Instead, we are getting our body back to a physiological place to interact with our emotions differently than if we are overwhelmed to the point of saying or doing things we wouldn’t otherwise do (like giving the car next to us the bird after they cut us off).
Something else to consider regarding our reactivity to stressors is our basic needs. Are you getting enough quality sleep? Is there constant overwhelm with activities that could otherwise be delegated or lessened? Are you eating enough, too much, or nutrient-rich foods that are sustaining you well? Have you had enough water? How much caffeine are you consuming? These things can greatly contribute to our moods and reactivity. And in these cases, they can be quick fixes like grabbing a snack or glass of water. Or maybe grabbing an herbal tea in the afternoon instead of another cup of coffee. But similar risks to prolonged stress follow when these basic needs are consistently not being met. Consider checking on your own quality of life and ways to make minor shifts to set yourself up for health and happiness.
*We use affiliate links on our website to help support and deliver well-researched content and resources.