Activating your self-soothing system.

Self Soothing – photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

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

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

Your brain’s three competing emotional systems.

Brain circuits.
Brain. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

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

Your brain’s automatic emotional regulation systems run constantly.

There’s a whole lot of things going on automatically in your nervous system. When I use the word brain here, I’m using it in the broad sense. More than half of all your nerve cells are not in your head. Some of these processes may be unconscious. Theorists believe we have two basic thinking systems. System one is that unconscious or barely conscious intuitive thinking system that is continually sending us feelings. Your life experiences can train your intuitive thinking system. Other times we use our slow thinking system, and it alters these emotional regulation systems’ settings.

Scientifically inclined people may think of this as the automatic process of moving electrical signals and chemical neurotransmitters throughout the nervous system. Some people will view this as emotions or feelings. I have seen systems that reduce all feelings to 3, 4, or 5 primary feelings. The English language has over 100,000 feelings related words. Each Sunday, I feature one of those words and some quotes about them.

Your threat system is continuously vigilant, keeping you away from danger.

Everyone has a threat system. Because of life experiences, some people have their threat systems turned up to the highest possible setting. If you’ve undergone a lot of traumatic experiences, your threat system is likely turned up high. Rumination and the worry method you adopt can keep your threat system running at maximum.

Threat systems are automatically biased towards seeing threats everywhere. Failure to detect a threat could be fatal. Unfortunately, detecting too many dangers, especially low probability threats, can interfere with having a happy or contented life.

A threat system set too high results in lots of fear, anxiety, and worry. If you’re in a dangerous situation, the threat system tries to protect you and may motivate you to change your circumstances. But if you’re not in a high danger situation, a threat system running on high can produce a lot of anxiety that interferes with your life.

Your threat system is responsible for the characteristic psychologists call a negativity bias. Your threat system sees danger everywhere. If you have an especially vocal inner critic’s voice, it can keep your threat system activated so much that it prevents you from acting.

Your threat system keeps you continually running away from things.

The drive system allows you to get your needs met.

The drive system pushes you forward to get your needs met. Those may be physical needs, emotional needs, or abstract needs such as accomplishment and status. The drive system is responsible for reducing hunger and thirst. Lack of food and water can be fatal. Too much food or unhealthy food can result in obesity and ill health. This points to a problem with the drive system. The drive system is easily turned on but often doesn’t shut off when a need has been met.

Your drive system also increases your interest in relationships. Too few relationships or poor-quality relationships can leave you feeling lonely. The drive system encourages reproduction. Too little sexual drive would have left the human species extinct. Some people get into problems when they try to use their reproductive system too often or to meet needs other than expressing love and affection.

Your drive system tells you that you must constantly chase after your desires.

The self-soothing system helps you adapt to changing circumstances.

The function of the self-soothing system is to produce positive feelings. For some people, it generates a sense of calm, comfort, and peace. Your self-soothing system can also increase resilience and help you cope with novel situations and setbacks. One way of looking at this is that most mental, emotional, and behavioral illnesses result from the threat and drive system’s overpowering the self-soothing system.

A well-functioning self-soothing system increases your sense of well-being and may result in an overall sense of happiness or contentment. Happiness is a complicated concept. Not everyone agrees on the nature of happiness or what you should do to maximize it. Throughout this year, I plan to write additional blog posts on happiness, its nature, and how to maximize it.

Running away from threats and chasing pleasure may not be the healthiest choices. Maybe it’s time you learned to like yourself and accept yourself the way you are. This year work on developing your positive emotions.

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

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

How to stay mentally well.

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

Mental Health or Mental Illness

Mental Health or Mental Illness?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Being mentally well involves a lot more than not having a mental illness.

I learned this lesson from an old car I used to drive. The car was battered, and it had a lot of miles on it, but it ran, and it got me where I need to go. Periodically I took it to a mechanic to get it serviced. There wasn’t anything broken on the car, but it didn’t always run as well as I would have liked. On the freeway, if I got up to a certain speed, the car would start to shake and become hard to control, so I had to slow it back down. But when I tried to accelerate it took forever to get up to speed, and the things that the mechanic fixed didn’t seem to make any difference. This car had an air conditioner, but it never seemed to be able to keep up once the air temperature outside got above eighty degrees.

Finally, that old car did break down, and there was no fixing her this time. I bought a much newer car and was quite surprised at how much easier it was to drive my new vehicle. It accelerated rapidly, and it didn’t shake when I got up to freeway speeds. Not only did the new car’s air conditioner cool on high, but it could also make the car feel downright cold.

Just as there was a long-distance between a car that ran poorly and a car that didn’t run. There can be an equally large distance between a condition that is so severe it’s diagnosed as a mental illness and you’re being fully mentally well.

Here are some tips on how to improve your mental health and be mentally well.

Try some of these tips to improve your mental wellness.

Don’t let your thoughts control you.

There is a difference between your thoughts and the truth. Not everything you think is accurate. What you need to do is separate helpful from unhelpful thoughts. Just because something scares you doesn’t mean it is dangerous. Don’t fall into the perfectionist trap of believing that if you’re not perfect, you’re a failure.

Get honest with yourself.

Many people have these little stories they tell themselves. It’s easy to blame other people for what’s wrong in your life. Many people self-handicap. They tell themselves they can’t do something which then becomes their excuse for not trying. When I work with people, who were in recovery from substance use disorders, I discovered many of them had told other people lies so often they come to believe their own stories. You’re going to spend your whole life with you make it an honest relationship.

Being real is essential for good mental health.

Be true to yourself. Don’t go through life being a fake and living for other people’s opinions. Don’t fall victim to the “impostor syndrome.” Do what you can do the best of your abilities but don’t ever doubt that you do have some abilities.

Be true to yourself; avoid dissonance.

Living your life by someone else’s values will not be satisfying for you unless those are also your values. Many people have three separate selves, who they think they should be, who they believe they are, and who they wish they were. The farther apart these three selves are the more dissonance. Accept yourself the way you are rather than trying to become some ideal perfect person. Work on improving the who you are and consider living the life of the person you want to be.

Knowing yourself is part of being mentally well.

Self-knowledge will help avoid fuzzy boundaries. Avoid being enmeshed or codependent. Your thoughts and feelings are your own. You must live your own life. You can share part of your life with others, but you can’t live their lives.

Don’t dump your stuff on others.

Psychoanalysts spend a lot of time looking at things called transference and countertransference. Don’t assume because you’re angry that everyone else is. If you had a problem with your father, don’t treat all men as if they were your father. Try to see each person as a unique individual who may not feel or think the same way you do.

Double-check the blueprints you developed in childhood.

A lot of the problems adults have are things they learned between the ages of eight and eighteen, which turned out to not work as adults or to not to be true. Crying may have worked well to get grandma to give you candy but falling down on the floor, and crying won’t get you a raise, and it may get you fired. No one learns everything a hundred percent, and your parents could only teach you what they knew. Reexamine those old templates you stored in your brain about how you should be and how you should interact with others.

Learn to calm yourself down.

Small children are dependent on their parents to soothe them when they’re upset. As we grow, we should learn to regulate our own feelings and to self soothe. Don’t believe that other people can control the way you feel. You may not like the things others do, but you don’t have to become angry or hurt. Just because you feel agitated does not mean you have to act out.

Look for improvement opportunities rather than failures.

Making mistakes is a part of life. Everyone does it whether you see their failures or not. Don’t beat yourself up for every mistake. Learn from your experiences. Continue to get better at living life. Life will give you a lot of challenges. Just because you missed the target once don’t stop trying. You will either learn from your mistakes, or you will keep making the same ones over and over. Grow because of your experiences rather than giving up.

Start now working on your mental health and wellness as well as your physical health. Some things may be out of your control but take control of things you can. Just avoiding illness is not enough. You deserve to have the best life possible.

Look here for more information on Mental Health and Wellness.

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 seem 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

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

For videos, see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel