Self-soothing exercises the brain, body needs to handle stress


Shauna summarized Self-Soothing article in 11/2017 AMHCA Advocate Magazine
If you or someone you know has trouble controlling their emotional and physical reactions to stressful situations, it is critical to understand why it may difficult to stay calm, think clearly, or make reasonable decisions when stressed.  There are many variables that affect out ability to self-regulate including poor sleep, unhealthy food intake, chronic pain and inflammation, dehydration, not enough movement, and residual effects of early life trauma.
Our brain and body work together like a finely tuned machine with consistently evolving strategies for organizing information and selecting arousal states (self-regulation). Inhibition is a critical self-regulatory strategy. For instance, if we are successful at siting down to read a book as a relaxation strategy, we also have to be ignoring all the other incoming stimulation that could distract us from our book (ie: spouse requests, pets, the constant “to-do” list in our monkey mind).
Three things that help your body deal effectively with stress include: 1. Breathe slowly and deeply (better than holding our breath when we feel threatened or fearful) which can help you keep the frontal cortex engaged (ability to think clearly) which enables you to make better choices, 2. Drink water. Being dehydrated zaps the electrolytes in your blood resulting in you being less focused, less coordinated with slower cognitive processing speeds, and 3. Prioritize healthy food choices. Food quality and availability affects your ability to function, and importantly, fresh food and water is not available to everyone. Some foods can affect inflammation in the body and emerging research shows a connection between chronic inflammation and anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Three things that don’t help your body deal with stress include; 1. Don’t “hold it” when you feel the urge to use the restroom. Besides feeling crabby, consistently putting off bathroom needs does have consequences on the body. Besides, getting up every couple hours is a good thing! 2. Don’t skimp on your sleep. Like our cell phones, we don’t work efficiently if we haven’t taken time to re-charge our batteries either. Humans recharge with sleep. 3. Don’t ignore physical discomfort. If your shoes are giving you blisters, your office is too cold, or you work on the computer all day with a back that keeps hurting - you need to know that ignoring these types of pain and discomforts can empty your energy resource much more quickly than if you weren’t having pain or discomfort.
Even if we “know” these things, sometimes a reminder is helpful. We have so much to keep track of in our world today, no one can remember everything. Thank goodness for reminders!