It is good to have a systematic system for self-soothing. We all need a way to relieve stress and lower our anxiety. There are 12 steps you can take to calm yourself.
Previously (12 Steps To Inner Peace), I gave you the plan for calming yourself and an example. But there wasn’t much detail. Let’s take a closer look.
Step 1: Beginning Signal
Although not necessary, a beginning signal helps indicate the start of the process. It is particularly helpful during training. It signals the start of a lesson.
Think of the beginning signal as a school bell, a ship horn or a call to prayer. It is not essential to the central activity but provides a clear focus. Things are starting now. It is time to change your mindset.
Step 2: Cleaning Breath
Taking a deep breath and releasing it is a great way to start the relaxing process.
This is a choice point. I like to take in a big breath and hold it for a few seconds before releasing it. But you can do it however you want.
Try breathing in through your nose and exhaling out your mouth. Or take a big gulp of air through your mouth and slowly exhale it like you’re whistling. Or inhale through one nostril and exhale through the other. See what works best for you.
Step 3: Close Your Eyes
Like prayer, closing your eyes is not central to the process. It certainly shouldn’t be done while driving. But it can help block out distractions.
Step 4: Relax Everything
When we are stressed or anxious, we tense our muscles. Our body gets ready for fight or flight. When we anticipate trouble, we brace ourselves. The key to being calm is to counter this tenseness with relaxation.
Relaxation is compatible with stress. When you find yourself balling our hands into fists, relax them. Shake them out if needed. When you are tense, so are the muscles in your neck and shoulders.
The only way to be sure something is relaxed is to tense it and then relax it. Don’t assume it is relaxed. Test it out.
Be systematic. Start with the toes, feet, angles, calves, thighs, etc. Start at the bottom and work your way up. Toes are a good place to start because they are easy to flex, easy to relax, and not very tense.
You want to start with easy areas and work toward problem regions. Typically, tension is found in the hands, shoulders, back, neck and face muscles. Leave them for last and pay special attention to them.
Step 5: Center Yourself
When your body is relaxed, it is time to relax your mind. Throwing away all ideas is a good way to clear the decks. It will be easier to stop anxious thoughts when everything has been swept clean.
Anxieties and worries will try to sneak back in. Throw them out. Tell yourself you’ll handle them later but for right now you’re focused on mental peace.
Throw out all self-recrimination. This is not the time to recount your failures. Push all negative thoughts out. Hold everything at bay.
Many people like to have a time of prayer or meditation but we’re not quite there yet. Being still is a precursor. First, clear everything out.
Step 6: Wait For The Healing Tone
This step is an added guarantee of having cleared out your thoughts. The healing is not in the tone but in the waiting a few seconds in perfect peace.
When you’re at the dentist, you don’t need to bring a bell with you. Take a cleansing breath, release your tensed fists and clear out your thoughts. At its basics, self-soothing comes down to breathing being incompatible with holding your breath, relaxed muscles being incompatible with stress, and a clear mind being incompatible with worry.
Step 7: Self-Talk
Remind yourself of the good in others. Recount the mercy you’ve received, the love you’ve found, and the joys you’ve shared. Go down your mental list of people in your life, thanking them and wishing them goodness and blessings.
Remind yourself of the good things you’ve done. Recount the progress you’ve made in being sober, generous, thoughtful, gentle and gracious.
Remind yourself that you are strong. Recall Popeye’s “I am what I am” or Jessie Jackson’s “I am somebody.” Try “I am learning to love the sound of my feet walking away from things not meant for me.” Or “I have a dream.”
Step 8: Sensory Scene
Fill your senses. Your aspirational statements prime the mental pump. Now, keep the flow going. Imagine yourself immersed in a place that activates all of your senses.
Pick your ideal scene.
If you are an ocean-lover, imagine being on a sandy beach you feel on your barefoot toes. The sun is warm on your skin but cooled by a gentle breeze. Smell the salt air, see the horizon and listen to sounds of tranquility.
If you are a desert- or mountain-lover, make the sense about your favorite environment. Use all of your senses. Make it as realistic as possible.
Step 9: Puppy Smile
To your sense-filled scene, a surprise of joy. Imagine a puppy licking your face in an expression of simple love.
If not a puppy, visualize whatever brings you a sense of pure joy. Imagine something that makes you smile.
Step 10: 3-2-1
The countdown prepares you reenter reality. Do it at a steady pace. Make it a predictable pattern.
“When you open your eyes, you will feel relaxed, confident and totally loved. In 3-2-1…”
Step 11: Open Your Eyes
As you open your eyes, orient yourself to your environment. Take a few seconds or minutes to adjust.
Assess your progress. Ask yourself for a status report. Are the muscles relaxed, is your mind calm, do you feel refreshed?
Step 12: Ending Signal
Like an end of day whistle, mark the end of your practice session. It is good to a cue that says “all done.”
Think of it as exit music or an “all clear” signal. It can be the same sound as your beginning signal or entirely different. Some people pick a favorite song or saying.
The military plays Taps at night, not to be sad but to mark the end of the day. It says all is well.
Choose an ending signal that gives you a sense of closure or inspires you to action. I like a gong but you can hum “whistle while you work” or a Stars Wars theme.
Here is another example of applying the 12 Self-Soothing Steps. Just listen and do.