How to self-soothe in healthy ways vs. unhealthy coping

self-soothe
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Many of us, when we try to self-soothe, have trouble understanding what we really need. We may have been primed since childhood to suppress or ignore our needs. So, when time comes to take care of ourselves, we’re at a loss to know what to do.

Rather than engaging in consistent self care, so that our tank is full, we wait until we’re running on empty. Only then do we desperately look for solutions to our problem of anxiety, exhaustion, or insert your brand of discomfort here.

If you grew up in a home where your needs went unmet, how to self-soothe will not come naturally. Instead of healthy self care, you go for quick unhealthy fixes to feel better. These include wine, comfort foods, shopping or binge-watching.

If you grew up in a home where your needs went unmet, how to self-soothe will not come naturally. Click To Tweet

As you know, these unhealthy practices do little to help us feel better. They may give a quick dopamine hit but leave us feeling guilty and empty inside. They do nothing to fill us up the way healthy self care would.

So, how do we incorporate healthy self-soothing into our lives and stop sabotaging ourselves with unhealthy coping mechanisms?

Struggling with self-sabotage? Download Chapter 1 of It’s Not Your Fault free.

1. Get honest with yourself.

It’s possible you’ve come to depend on one or more of these coping strategies at the level of an addiction. We can become addicted to behaviors like shopping and gambling as much as substances such as alcohol or food.

Our culture condones overdrinking with the image of the wine mom. But if you’re dependent on alcohol that’s no laughing matter. The emotional and physical health risks of drinking too much are underplayed in our society, possibly because it is such a cash cow.

Altering your state of mind rather than facing your issues will ensure things never change. You may have to get help and do some internal work to get out from under dependence on any of the above, but it’s the only way to move forward.

2. Look at your past.

Do you tend to put yourself last and consider everyone else’s feelings instead of your own? Often we engage in people pleasing because we’ve been conditioned to do so since childhood.

If you grew up in a home where your emotional needs went unmet, you’ll begin to detach from them. That’s why you have trouble understanding how to self-soothe in healthy ways. You only know how to cut off from your needs because they were unwelcome.

If you grew up in a home where your emotional needs went unmet, you'll begin to detach from them. Click To Tweet

You achieve that by zoning out in front of Netflix, eating or drinking to dull your senses, or anything else to escape how you’re feeling. Rather than process the reality of your emotions you look for the escape hatch, which ensures nothing gets resolved.

When you look at how your past influences your present you can take steps to reparent yourself. You can begin to let go of the unhealthy coping mechanisms that served you in childhood. And learn to meet your own needs through healthy self-soothing now.

3. Go further than skin deep.

unhealthy coping mechanisms

We used to think of self care as a mani-pedi, or a warm bath with candles. Now we know self care goes deeper than that. It means taking care of your need for connection to yourself, God, and others.

When you feel the urge to escape through an unhealthy coping behavior, stop and ask yourself what you really need. Lean into the feelings instead of running away from them.

When you feel the urge to escape through an unhealthy coping behavior, stop and ask yourself what you really need. Click To Tweet

Perhaps you need time alone to free-write what’s on your mind. You’ll be amazed at what comes to the surface with only 10-15 minutes of unstructured journaling.

Sometimes 5 minutes of stretching your body can ground you and release anxiety or racing thoughts. Listening to uplifting music will also help you self-soothe.

Going for a walk has benefits beyond exercise. The movements we make on a walk mimic those used by therapists to help patients recover from PTSD. If you can’t get outside now, move your eyes to the right and left for a similar calming effect.

Reach out to a friend, not to complain or gossip, but to share honestly about what you’re feeling. Women know that processing our thoughts and emotions out loud makes us feel better and leads to solutions.

The goal is not to solve our problems today, but to take baby steps toward getting our needs met. We may have to overcome a lifetime of imprinting and that doesn’t happen overnight. It takes deep work and a commitment to yourself to change.

Share this