Activating your self-soothing system.

Self Soothing – photo courtesy of

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

What is self-soothing, and why is it important?

Self-soothing is the things you do to help yourself calm down and relax. These techniques are useful for regulating your emotions. We readily recognize these behaviors when we see a parent rocking their baby or patting them on the back. Unfortunately, most people weren’t taught how to self-soothe. As people grow older, it becomes increasingly beneficial to develop appropriate self-soothing behaviors.

It’s easier to activate the threat system than the self-soothing system.

Our emotional systems have developed over considerable lengths of time to aid in our survival. Recognizing when there is a threat can keep you alive in a dangerous situation. The threat system is on automatic and has relatively few responses to choose from. The threat system largely depends on a few behaviors.

Freezing is the most primitive of those behaviors. People who have a history of having been abused or neglected frequently freeze when the situation looks dangerous. Freezing can lead to the inability to think or spacing out, which is technically called dissociation. If when you get upset, you find that chunks of time are missing, you’ve probably been experiencing some form of freezing or dissociation.

Fleeing, which is running away, is another primitive threat system response to anything that seems dangerous. Running away might increase your chances of survival in a hazardous situation, but if your flight response is always on alert you are likely to become increasingly limited in your options. Fleeing can keep you from having good relationships or even prevent your being able to hold a job.

The fight response is the threat system’s last line of defense. People with a history of traumatic experiences may violently explode each time their threat system is activated. Continually engaging your fight system drives other people away. When you have constant conflicts with others, you may end up doing things you later regret.

If your threat system is easily activated, especially when the threats you experience in life are minimal, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble.

The solution to an overactive threat system is to learn to self-soothe and reduce the activation of your threat system. Here are some techniques which might help you reduce the threat system’s hyperarousal.

Slowing your roll with deep breathing.

Deep breathing is an extremely simple technique that can almost instantly calm you down. The simple version of learning deep breathing consists of a few simple steps. Breathe very deeply from your diaphragm. When upset, most people take short, frequent breaths from very high up in their chest the way a puppy would pant.

Take that deep breath in slowly and thoroughly. Hold it for several seconds. When you exhale, pause for several seconds before the next breath. With a little practice, you can lengthen the intervals between breaths. As you increase the intervals, your activated threat system will decline. Deep breathing can lower your heart rate, which is another signal to your brain to calm down because the threat has passed.

Remembering your happy place.

When your threat system is activated, but it’s not appropriate or possible to freeze, flee, or fight, creating a mental image of a calming, happy place can reduce the threat system activation. Many people have difficulty thinking of a happy place when the threat system is activated. Practice visualizing your happy place frequently, so you’re able to remember it when the time comes. If you look back through recent posts on this blog, you will find one in which I shared some pictures of happy places that people have suggested.

Becoming more self-compassionate.

One cause of an overactive threat circuit is being too hard on yourself. Many people find it easy to be compassionate towards others. Think of the way you would show compassion to a baby or small child if they were in pain—practice showing yourself Self-Compassion. Taking care of yourself is not being selfish. If you don’t love yourself and take care of yourself, you make it hard for other people to show you compassion.

Changing your thinking.

Many people think that it is another person or event which has triggered their threat system. If you look carefully at your thinking, you will find that whenever something upset you, it was followed immediately by a belief about why that happened. If you re-examine that belief, you’re likely to find an alternate belief that will reduce your threat response system’s activation. This system of challenging beliefs is frequently referred to as the ABCDE technique. It’s extremely useful for helping people overcome excess anger.

There are several other “unhelpful thoughts” which function to maintain negative emotions. Learn to recognize these unhelpful thoughts, challenge them, and watch your self-soothing system take control. Unhelpful thoughts are sometimes also called “dysfunctional thoughts” or “irrational thoughts.” Whether they are dysfunctional or irrational or not, if you have automatic thoughts that keep your threat system activated, you may want to take another look at those thoughts.

Watch your self-talk.

Negative self-talk can work you up into a frenzy. Telling yourself that this can’t be happening will put you on high arousal. Make a habit of practicing helpful self-talk. Tell yourself that while this is something you would prefer not happening, you can handle it. Even in worst-case scenarios, people who tell themselves they are survivors and that they will get through this fare better than those who tell themselves I can’t do this, or I won’t be able to handle this.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seems like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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