Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Blogging for Wellbeing: Self Soothing & Self Care; Mental Aspects

The next few posts are going to be dealing with four different aspects of self soothing and self-care – the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual.

With regards to the mental aspects of self-soothing and self-care, I mentioned yesterday that the first hurdle is getting over that idea that you don’t deserve self-care or self-nurturing. YOU DO. I know for certain that that was the argument that went round and round and round in my head when I decided to be good to myself, even with little things like getting my hair cut – you’re a terrible person – you don’t deserve a new haircut – what’s the point, you are so ugly anyway, it won’t make much difference – who do you think you are to be wasting money on yourself like that?

I know that ‘acting as-if’ is a common instruction in therapy – it’s something I dismissed for a long time, thinking that of course, yes, it’s great for other people, I get that it’s effective…but that’s because these people are essentially worthy, even though they don’t think so. It doesn’t apply to me because I am worthless, disgusting, awful, blah blah blah. 

If you’re at this stage right now, where you’re wanting to treat yourself better and wanting to recover but not feeling that you deserve it, I can’t tell you how crucial this ‘act-as-if’ philosophy is. It works. Not straight away, and you probably will feel guilty and strange to start with, but like with anything, the more you practice, the easier it gets. Act as if you are worthy. Act as if you are loved. Act is if you’re deserving of gentleness, tenderness, comfort, pleasure. I promise that eventually it will start to feel real.

Everyone will find their own ways of managing because everyone is different. The things that make me happy or that I think of as ‘treats’ may make you want to run for the hills. I love spending time in libraries, for example – just sitting in the quiet with a stack of books, notepaper, pens and coffee. This horrifies my sister, whose perfect day would be spent shopping, shopping and shopping some more, which in turn horrifies me. (Unless it’s book-shopping. Which of course, is different).

I put together a list of suggestions to include here, all techniques or activities that I have found personally helpful, specifically with regards to mental self-soothing, with quieting that cruel voice that tells you that you are undeserving.  

1. Journaling – I’ve kept a regular journal for maybe eight or nine years, now, and it’s something I’ve found absolutely vital. Not just in terms of having a place where I can be absolutely and completely honest and open, but also in terms of self-monitoring, self-review and self-help. It’s so much easier to rationalise after the fact – when the emotions have settled down and you can read something back from a logical perspective. It allows you to chart your progress, and any dips. What works for you, what doesn’t. What triggers you. What distracts you. It’s also a good place to start writing about feelings when you’re still very protective of them – it’s sort of a practice-run for sharing with other people. Before keeping a journal, I thought diaries would be quite stilted, rigid things: Today I did a b and c and I felt like x y and z andthen I went to bed. But the more you write, the freer you get. My diaries now are full of all kinds of things - descriptions, poems, lists, streams of consciousness, dreams etc, as well as the day to day things. You can write in different ways to suit your personality, your mood, your preference and your needs.

2. Rationialising –you can do this however you feel works best for you. I like to use a couple of things I learned in therapy. If I’m thinking something negative, for example, I will maybe write a list of the evidence supporting the thought and the evidence against it. I will pretend that a friend is having the exact same thought and write a response to her (I find it easier to be gentle and reasonable with other people, which I’m sure is familiar to a lot of you). I know some people like to argue things out loud, either with themselves or someone else – other people are good in the sense that they have a little distance and perspective.

3. Writing  - a poem, a story, a letter, a blog. Not only does the writing itself act as a distraction technique, it can be actively therapeutic as well. You can create something. You can send a note or letter to someone else, which is a nice thing to do and should make you feel good. You can express freely the things you think people maybe wouldn’t understand – put them into a poem or a story (write a book, if you’re particularly ambitious!). It’s also interesting how many times I’ve only realised something after writing it down and circling the thought for a while. Your subconscious throws up all sorts of things given the chance.

4. Reading – again, this will depend on you. You might want to read as a distraction, a sort of escapism. I do find this helpful, but when I’m struggling with low mood or negative thoughts etc, I find non-fiction supports me  best – I tend to buy books on whatever my particular concern is at that moment, or things people have suggested may help. Mindfulness is a good example – when I first discussed this with my therapist, I was fascinated by the idea and bought a ton of books on the subject. You might want to read memoirs or biographies (just be aware of whether you are feeling triggered – if you are, find something else). You might want to focus on psychology, religion, self-help, other blogs - whatever helps. There are some amazingly helpful resources out there if  you treat them as actual tools to assist in your recovery rather than exercises to grudgingly undertake – I’ve listed some of the ones I’ve used and found helpful at the end of this post.

5. Affirmations – I read something recently (and I can’t remember where it was or who wrote it) about creating new neural pathways in the brain. The gist was that the more you think a particular thought, the more you believe it and the deeper the groove it wears in your brain. The example they gave was to think of a pristine ski slope, thick with snow. One skier goes down and leaves a trail. Another skier follows in their wake and the tracks go a little deeper. And so on and so on. It’s the same with thoughts. And instead of gouging out negative paths for ourselves – I’m fat, I’m a terrible person, I am worthless, I am ugly – we can choose to carve out positive ones instead. Affirmations can help with this – tell yourself that you are special, you are capable, you are intelligent, you are a kind person, a good friend – whatever means something to you personally (try operationbeautiful.com if you're struggling for ideas). If you find this too hard, get a friend to write three or four one-word descriptions for you – reliable – sweet – thoughtful – compassionate. As simple as that. And then read them. And re-read them. Every chance you get. Tape them over a mirror, stick them by your pillow, your toothbrush mug, keep a copy in your make-up bag, your purse. It can be excruciating at first – you probably won’t believe the things you are telling yourself,  you might feel horribly uncomfortable. But give it a chance. Give you a chance.

6. Bliss List – I’ve already written about this in a previous post so I’ll link you straight there rather than rehash it all here:


I can honestly say this is something I try to refer back to every day, and it’s been absolutely invaluable.

And lastly – a few book recommendations! I’ve read lots more than this, but these are the ones I’ve gone back to again and again, books I’ve found particularly helpful, practical or inspiring. Hope they can help you too J

The Art of Extreme Self Care                         Cheryl Richardson                           
Everything I’ve Ever Done That Worked    Lesley Garner
The Happiness Project                                    Gretchen Rubin
Mindful recovery                                              Thomas & Beverley Bien
The Happiness Trap                                        Russ Harris
Women, Food and God                                   Geneen Roth
Wasted                                                               Marya Hornbacher
Eat Pray Love                                                   Elizabeth Gilbert
A Writer's Workbook                                      Caroline Sharp


  1. The haircut argument is one I had for such a long time - its an excellent example of the depth and bredth of impact a lack of self care and self worth has on us.

    You're so awesome - all these examples of self care are brilliant and the book recommendations too - theres a couple there i havent read so may have to exercise self care in book buying (any excuse!) - and btw that bookcase image - my idea of heaven!!!

  2. Mine too, Tracey!

    Oh, and that desk photo? It's Virginia Woolf's writing desk ;-)

  3. Great advice! I love the pictures. Beautiful.

  4. Ahh, thank you, Siobhan :)

  5. this was so lovely and insightful. it gave me some things i want to incorporate more into my life and recovery. thanks ; )

  6. Thanks, Jenn - I'm stil getting my head round the idea that I might have something to offer so it's lovely to hear that this might be helpful for you :)

  7. I LOVE the way you described using rationalising to help calm and soothe the mental mischief. I have always been great at rationalising my way into the negative side, but writing it all out, and thinking how I'd react if a friend was writing to me, and responding that way? Wow. Definitely going to have to try that one.

  8. (Oh, and I love operation beautiful!)