Warning: Heavy handed anthropomorphize’ing ahead.
Once upon a time we had a bullmastiff named Hercules (spill out some kibble for our fallen homie).
Hercules was a gentle giant in the vein of my beloved Ferdinand the Bull.
He looked ferocious, but was great with kids, didn’t require much exercise, and loved him some good trash television.
Herc was also an anxious dog.
He was so frazzle-ridden, in fact, he earned himself the nickname Flinchy due to his tendency to react in that fashion to the slightest noise or tiniest shift in his surroundings.
Flinchy Hercules also possessed a curious habit which quickly drew our attention:
When he was stressed or anxious he licked his forearms. He didn’t stop until the feelings subsided.
Fireworks? Forearm licking.
Suitcases out indicating impending travel? Lick lick lick.
Herc’s forearm-licking became a family joke.
When we found ourselves entering stressful situations “It’s time to lick our forearms!” became a way to lessen our frazzle and calm ourselves.
The joke, however, eventually sparked this two-legged family member to pose a query to herself in search of a more literal answer:
Sure, Herc’s mannerisms were odd and (st)icky.
Yet, as I watched him self-soothe during a thunderstorm, I realized there was much to learn about calming myself from the flinchy, brindle in front of me.
Self-soothing is highly personal.
What felt calming to Herc wasn’t what Id choose to soothe my stress (been there. tried that. didn’t like the after-goop). Each of us needs to search for and discover our own unique techniques or activities which, when repeated, immediately calm.
Self-soothing is about experiencing the positive.
While it may have been yucky to look at, Herc’s forearm goop/dried crusting didn’t hurt him (we asked a vet). Self-soothing is never negative or punishing (For Herc punitive soothing might have taken the form of nail biting. For humans it might look like over-eating, drinking, over-exercising etc.).
Self-soothing stops when the feeling dissipates.
It never ceased to amaze me how Herc would lick his forearms until calm and stop. He never licked to irritation. It should be the same for us humans and soothing techniques. All things in moderation are fine, but even soothing-stuffs (hello, one glass of wine! greetings single episode of Parenthood!) lose power/become detrimental when done too much.
Self-soothing demands we value ourselves.
To anthropomorphize further: Herc discovered what calmed him, experienced distress, commenced this calming-action because he knew he was worth feeling better.
This piece is crucial.
If we don’t believe we are worthy of good feelings–then it becomes virtually impossible to self-soothe.
I had no clue how to self-soothe.
I didn’t walk around in a constant state of anxiety, yet couldn’t come up with a singular action which immediately calmed me.
After chatting with friends I learned most of them had no idea what sparked calm in them either.
And they, as I did, wanted to figure it out.
We gathered as a group and brainstormed ways we might soothe our stresses away.
We agreed, for humans, soothing focused mainly on nurturing/being kind to ourselves.
Since nurturing can take vastly different forms, we launched our exploration by meditating on/writing about what felt soothing to each of our senses:
I learned soothing, for me, takes the form of touch.
A friend realized the smell of cookies baking sparked calming memories/relaxed her even after the shittiest hardest of days.
Another friend’s self-soothing necessitated listening to angry music so she could release frazzle and find zen.
None of us were the same. None of us found serenity in another friend’s approach. None of us licked our forearms.
And now I turn it back to you:
- How do you lick your forearms? What aids you in swiftly re-finding inner calm?
- Have you spent time exploring the 5 senses and examining which soothes you most?