Comfort: How To Soothe Ourselves In Healthy Ways

Comfort: How To Soothe Ourselves In Healthy Ways

Our Need For Comfort

Recently, I read this quote about comfort in an article called Things Fall Apart, by Helena Sorenson:

“This year I’ve been keenly aware of my need for comfort. I have returned to familiar stories in order to experience the comfort of anticipated endings. I have relished the comfort of food, of warmth, of routine. I have ached to be held, to hear a trusted voice murmur words of reassurance while I weep.”  

I didn’t recognize my need for comfort until I read those sentences. Helena gave voice to what I was feeling, but not able to articulate.

And then I saw this photo taken on Thanksgiving Day in an intensive care unit in Houston, Texas.

© Getty Images
Doctor in viral photo comforting elderly COVID patient: I tried ‘to be a little more human’

It dawned on me, how we all have been searching for comfort this year. How this has been a year of extreme stress and sadness. Too many lives lost. So many jobs lost. Familiar routines gone. So I started to wonder what can we do to bring comfort back into our lives in a healthy way?

One of my most preferred ways of getting comfort is hugs: giving and receiving them. How much my heart hurt to see this photo, and how comforting it must have been for that man to get a hug while struggling with a disease that may kill him. I miss hugs very, very much!!

Without hugs, I’ve been eating junk food, and too much of regular food in an attempt to comfort myself. It feels good in the moment, but then I get uncomfortably full. Then heartburn returns to my nights. Too much sugar has led to my joints hurting, and headaches, and brain fog. My clothes are tight.

Maybe you too have found yourself eating too much? Or drinking too much? Or gaming too long? There has to be a way to comfort ourselves without harming ourselves in the process.

How to Comfort Ourselves Without Food

On my bookshelf is a thin green volume called 50 Ways To Soothe Yourself Without Food, by Susan Albers, PSY.D. See I have the tools I need, but I forget to use them. Have you forgotten any of your healthcare tools this year? Anyway, back to Susan’s book.

This book was written before pandemic times, so some of it’s suggestions need to be modified. However most of them are still really useful. A couple days ago I tried one of her suggestions to get rid of angry feelings.

Skipping Emotional Stones

If you have a body of water and flattish stones available throw the stones sideways in order to skip them across the water. If you are not near a body of water you can throw imaginary stones, instead. Think of each stone as an unpleasant emotion and let it fly away. A large field and a frisbee would work as well.

I tried her suggestion down at the creek in the local park. I was much better at tossing stones that plopped into the water instead of skipping them, but it did help me feel lighter somehow.

50 Ways To Soothe Yourself Without Food

These are the topics covered in Susan’s book:

  1. Why Eating is so Soothing
  2. How To Get Started
  3. Mindful Meditation Techniques
  4. Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Eating
  5. Soothing Sensations to Calm & Relax the Body
  6. Soothing Yourself With Distractions
  7. Soothing Yourself With Social Relationships
  8. Soothing Emergency Help

Lastly, in an Emotional Eating Emergency, she suggests doing one exercise from each section to “soothe and comfort all the different aspects of your body and your mind.” She suggests starting by noticing your body to determine if you are hungry physically or are looking for something to eat due to strong emotions.

Accepting Your Emotions

Susan says, “Eating to get rid of uncomfortable emotions implies that there’s something unacceptable about what you’re feeling…. Instead of trying to knock out your bad feelings with food, it might be possible for you to accept feeling bad and be able to live with that feeling for awhile.”

A light bulb of understanding clicked on when I read this. Maybe I’ve been judging my emotions, instead of just experiencing them as is. So, I ask myself the questions in Section 3, “What is so terrible about feeling the way that I do?” “Will this level of discomfort or pain hurt me physically?” “Does my overeating tell me something about the intensity of my emotion?”

For example, what is so awful about feeling lonely? When I feel lonely I feel sad, but it’s an emotion that everyone feels at one time or another. So, is there anything about feeling lonely that needs judgement? I discovered that no, feeling lonely is just a normal human emotion. It doesn’t mean that something is wrong with me for feeling that way. Then it dawns on me that I have been judging myself for not coping better with loneliness. Ugh, judging my coping skills, and emotions doesn’t ever help me feel better.

If you can relate to this example, Susan’s book will help you understand what’s going on in your tangled emotions.

Meeting Your Need For Touch

Next, if you’re so blessed to have other human beings in your home, be thankful. I realize that having the company of others full time during a pandemic has it’s own issues, but at least you have people to hug whenever you need to. Living alone brings lots of peace and quiet, but few opportunities to hug others especially those outside your household during a pandemic.

Before the pandemic I had lots of opportunities to hug my family, friends, and sometimes my neighbors. But now it’s an absolute HUG DESERT out there, and in here. So how can we meet our needs for touch when we live alone?

Here are the things I’ve been doing to meet my need for touch. Some of these may appear childish, but you have to do what works for you during unusual times.

  • I put on the bathrobe given to me by a friend when I broke my shoulder. I pretend that she’s giving me a hug. It’s a lovely, soft, snuggly bathrobe. Thanks Julie!!!
  • On Thanksgiving, I ate dinner with a large red stuffed panda given to me by my son, and his wife at the start of the pandemic. His fur is soft, and he’s big enough to hug. I imagine hugging my son and daughter-in-law while I hug Red.
Red, My Comfort Companion
  • I sleep with extra pillows, and place one at my back to feel like someone is laying against my back. I know it sounds weird, but it does help.
  • Sometimes I hug myself.
  • While doing these things, I remind myself that I’m okay; that everything is going to be okay. I remind myself that I’m not really alone, because God is always with me.

Why do these activities help? According to Linda Graham, MFT,

“the fastest way to restore ease and calm to your nervous system is through warm, safe touch…Warm safe touch activates the release of oxytocin, the hormone of safety and trust, your brain’s direct and immediate antidote to the stress hormone cortisol.”

From Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster. This is another very helpful resource for managing stress. If you would like to read my review of this book, click here.

Wrap-Up of Exploring Comfort

There are so many more nuggets of wisdom in 50 Ways To Soothe Yourself Without Food. If you’d like me to write more about it. Let me know in the comments. I definitely plan to try more of her exercises in the coming days. I also feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of this topic. Perhaps, I’ll write more about it.

Also, please help me keep this blog up and running. Even a couple dollars will help. You can donate here: https://ko-fi.com/upbeatliving Thank you!

Till next time, Kathy

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By Kathryn

I'm a writer, disabled registered nurse, and former home school parent of 6 children ages 19 to 32.

View all of Kathryn's posts.

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