How to Deal with Stress, Bad Habits, and Addictions: Self-Soothing

  • Carrissa Pannuzzo, M.A., LMFT, LPC

How to Deal with Stress, Bad Habits, and Addictions: Self-Soothing

By: Carrissa Pannuzzo, M.A., LMFT, LPC

To identify ahead of stressor:

What are your triggers?

  • H.A.L.T. (hungry/hurting, angry/anxious, lonely, tired)
  • Past hurts (father/mother wounds, picked on at school, etc.)
  • Fears (work stress, rejection, etc.)

What happens to your body when stress (physiological signs)?

  • Heartbeat quickens muscles tense, palms sweat, flush of heat, etc.

In the moment self-soothing skills:

1. Recognize you’re being triggered and/or beware of what’s happening in your body.

2. Take deep breaths.

    One highly researched technique is called 4-7-8. It is a natural tranquilizer to the       nervous system.

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.

  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.

  • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

When a person is stressed/triggered and the heart rate goes above 95 beats per minute, the body tells the brain that survival is at stake. Essentially the body and brain think they’re about to die and the fight/flight/freeze instinct takes over. This happens in the limbic system of the brain. When the limbic system takes over, the higher functions of the brain (reason, planning, compassion, etc.) in the prefrontal cortex shut down until the threat is neutralized.

This is why addiction is so powerful. When we are stressed and need something to calm us, our body thinks we’re in danger and for the major part shuts down our reasonable part of the brain. So nearly all the knowledge, love, and care for others we have goes out the window.

You can learn all about the dangers and harms of pornography, alcohol, drugs, overeating, etc. but it’s not going to mean a thing if you can’t calm down. This is why developing self-soothing skills are so important!

3. Tell yourself “This is not an emergency. I am not going to die. I do not have to react.”

Again, your body actually thinks it’s going to die when it is stressed. This is even if the stress logically wouldn’t lead to death (your kid is throwing a tantrum, your spouse is upset with you, or you’re about to go into a meeting that may go badly). Train yourself to repeat these things as you’re taking your deep breaths.

4. Once your heart rate is back to normal and your brain is back to calm,you no longer have to REact, you can now decide how you want to act.

Mastering self-soothing, along with developing your own identity, are the keys to freedom from unhealthy habits and addictions.

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