What’s on Your List? Developing Healthy Ways to Calm and Soothe

Lawyers and students often leave healthy relaxing activities and rituals at the door of the profession, starting when they arrive at law school. As we get closer to Law Student Mental Health Day on October 10, 2020, I want to encourage law students to practice well-being, but I also want to help lawyers and students find ways to calm and soothe themselves.

The science and literature on managing stress tells us to use healthy coping strategies. Some of those strategies involve socializing, exercising, eating right, and sleeping well. A specific type of taking care of ourselves is one we first learned as infants and that we have to keep relearning at every growth stage: how to self-soothe. The term is not my favorite, and the synonyms for soothing sound better to me: relaxing, calming, consoling. Attending to ourselves and thus self-regulating is important to our beings. When you read about how to help an infant develop self-soothing, most books and articles will tell you to: (1) provide consistency and a routine to help the child feel secure; (2) provide the child with a security object like a teddy bear; (3) provide the child with a comfortable environment; and (4) provide the child with reassurance that they are not alone.  As a child ages, we can help them find more advanced and age-appropriate self-soothing practices. And as we become adults, we adopt our own techniques to self-soothe. Some of them may be healthy and some not.  I encourage you to reach out for support if your self-regulating tools are creating more stress or anxiety than they are relieving.

To relieve momentary stressors and irritability, create a short list of things that work to console, relax, and soothe you. Keep the list handy where you can refer to it as needed. Only include things that sound like a break to you and not a chore.  Try a few things, see what works, and modify your list accordingly.

Recently, I was challenged by someone close to me to come up with a list of self-soothing activities for them to consider. The person had quit drinking and was not yet immersing themselves in many activities that would self-soothe. “It’s helpful to think about recovery as a process, not an end state [not unlike the continuous process and dimensions of well-being]. It’s a series of steps a person takes to make life better on multiple dimensions: physical, mental and spiritual well-being, a sense of purpose and connection, the ability to contribute in a meaningful way and more.”

Here is the list I came up with. Some are tried and true by me and for me; others are things that I have learned along the way:

  1. Listen to an inspiring song or piece of music.
  2. Call someone designated who has agreed that you can call them for support.
  3. Ground your body with your surroundings.
  4. Keep a talisman and/or a photo of someone or something that soothes you (like a shell or stone or coin, or a photo that reminds you of a place or person you love). Take a moment to be present.
  5. Read a poem or passage that is comforting to you. I like the “serenity prayer” or words to my favorite songs. Some like the Bible or philosophers’ words or poets’ words (“Burnt Norton” is such a great poem, or anything by Rumi).
  6. Just breathe.
  7. Get up and stretch.
  8. Walk away.
  9. Go outside.
  10. Hug a tree.
  11. Take a self-compassion moment.
  12. Meditate or listen to nature sounds (like the ocean).
  13. Lie down or sit with your eyes closed and rest.
  14. Read or listen to something funny or remember something funny and laugh.
  15. Dance.
  16. Keep specific scents on hand that are relaxing (like lavender or sandalwood) and smell them. Or take fresh lavender or lavender oil and put some on your temples or the sides of your nose − or just smell it from the bottle or candle.
  17. Hug someone or pet a sweet animal.
  18. Read or listen to something of interest.
  19. Do some physical exercise.
  20. Draw or sketch.

Pick a few of these things to try, and do them several times a day. Try a technique hourly at first, and also during times of heightened stress, anxiety, or cravings.

You may make two or three lists − one with things to do when you are starting to feel depressed, one for irritability or anxiety, and one for cravings. Or maybe it’s all on the same list.

Having a reward system in place creates incentives to practice the items on your list(s). Use a reward system like a jar to put money in, maybe daily. Use it to save for something meaningful.

Develop a new hobby or bring back an old one so that you can have something that you are building momentum toward in your life.

All of the above are tools and resources you can try, but it is more meaningful to do what works for you. Good luck, and if you need support with your quest to relax, console, and self-soothe, please call the OAAP: 503.226.1057.

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