I just finished writing in my journal about two minor but painful events that I just couldn’t let go of. They kept swirling around and around in my mind without resolution and left me feeling inadequate, disempowered, and uncomfortable. As soon as I unloaded my story on the pages of my sacred journal, I then wrote these words to myself, “Good job on the feelings, K! Now, let’s soothe and soften.”
Ha! I had to smile. I love how I’ve become such a true and trusted friend to myself through my daily writing practice, completely honoring what lands there, no matter how small or silly it seems.
As I wrote, then reread, my celebration of me, my truth, and my feelings, I felt freer. The judgment melted away. I gained perspective. Then I locked that fresh perspective into my body by soothing and settling my nervous system, just as I’d recommended to myself.
Why Soothe and Settle?
We’re hearing a lot about the need to soothe and settle these days, terms used in the language and literature of experts on trauma. We’re all traumatized—blacks, whites, men, women, children. And we’re traumatized for many shared and individual reasons we’re paying more attention to—white supremacy, childhood abuse and neglect, sexism, agism, and the myriad small as well as deep losses associated with the COVID-19 global pandemic.
See, our bodies are all wise. They take in our experiences and respond with magnificent precision—electrically, biochemically, and neurologically—to protect us. We then learn trauma and carry it around with us in our bodies. It becomes part of our biology and how we respond to future events even when survival’s not at stake. Just like I did with mine.
As adults, we can learn to manage the pain and trauma in our bodies and heal our automatic trauma responses to the painful events of our lives. We can learn to soothe and settle our nervous systems. And we can teach these simple techniques to children.
Soothe and Settle through Self-Care
A healthy body is more amenable to soothing and settling. The healthy brain is less prone to persistent difficult moods and more able to shift perspectives. Tend to the basics:
- Good sleep as well as periods of rest and play.
- Let go of toxins, irritants, distractions, and negative energy.
- Move often and carry yourself well.
- Consistently eat a healthy, whole foods, low inflammation potential diet.
- Practice self-love and connect with people you love and who love you.
- Tap into and trust your inner core of strength.
- Learn to balance the stresses of life.
- Practice being mindful and aware of the present moment.
- Gift yourself with daily doses of sunshine and being in nature.
Soothe and Settle as a Daily Practice
Having daily practices that soothe and settle your nervous system creates resilience you can draw from as you bump into the inevitable challenges and changes of life.
- Daily journaling or morning pages—create space to honor and explore your thoughts and feelings.
- Daily meditation.
- Daily connection with nature through walks, hikes, or tending to your garden.
- Daily gratitude practice to open your heart, allowing heart energy to soothe your nervous system.
- Daily creation—art, crafts, writing, cooking, building.
- Consciously avoiding excesses of negative, soul-draining energy.
Soothe and Settle 911
There will always be times when the biology of trauma is set off before we’re consciously aware it’s happening. We find ourselves overwhelmed, anxious, fearful, or angry without warning. We need well-practiced tools to pull out and use in these instances.
Trauma biology is designed to help us fight, flee, or freeze to survive and lands very quickly in the body. It can be powerful and highly uncomfortable. Don’t try to fix it, figure it out, or scrutinize how you feel. First, soothe and settle.
If you find yourself feeling trauma but are in no real danger, follow this sequence:
- I STOP. I stop and drop into myself. I bring hands to heart (or over my head) and close my eyes (or look up to the sky).
- I breathe. I breathe slowly and deeply no matter how hard this feels (the biology of trauma makes breathing shallow and difficult). It can help to count—slow 3 count in, hold for 3, slow 3 count out, hold for 3, repeat.
- I soften. I soften my skin, soften my heart, soften my mind, soften my stories. I let the sharp edges of my pain, suffering, and difficult emotions soften.
- I stay curious. I stay curious. I watch my sweet feelings, whatever they are, as the curious, compassionate observer of myself.
- I feel. I give myself permission to feel all my feelings. I honor them all and resist judgment, shame, and blame. I know my feelings are here to teach me, not hurt me.
- I flow. And just like a river, I flow. As I breathe, soften, stay curious, and let myself feel my feelings, I flow. I softly and curiously watch how I carve new grooves in the landscape of my beautiful self. I don’t know where I’m going, but I feel the release, relief, and peace.
I find myself turning to this sequence of practices a lot lately—it’s like a constant dialogue inside me.
I am increasingly appreciative of how traumatized we all are by simply living in this world. There’s nothing to judge, only to learn.
How do you soothe and settle?
Karyn Shanks MD. Stay Curious. 2020.
Karyn Shanks MD. Unbroken. 2020.
Karyn Shanks MD. We are our narratives: from medicine to white supremacy. 2020.
Karyn Shanks MD. How to Heal Ourselves from the COVID-19 Pandemic. 2020.