Soothing techniques for anxiety and pain relief
I am very grateful to have the help of some very wise and generous teachers and healers and to have learned soothing techniques for anxiety and pain relief, to manage my fears as they arise. Tools to be self-soothing, self-compassionate, self-accepting, mindful and tools to feel and release my emotions.
My first panic attack was in hospital several years ago. I thought I was dying. I believed I was overdosing on the medication they were giving me. I had witnessed panic attacks before. I had learned the theory behind anxiety, fear, panic but until the agony gripped my chest, the sweat poured from my body, the tears streamed from my face, I had no idea the depth of the pain and terror. My heart literally ached as the agony and fear took hold. I was struggling with fear. In fact it was fear of pain and later fear of fear of pain I had to learn to manage. Pain can be completely overwhelming and the anxiety around the pain became as disabling as the pain itself.
Choosing courage over fear. Being both healed and healing. Always learning.
The thing with chronic pain is that no one can see it, I don’t have a cast or limp or any real indication pointing out to others that I am in pain. Some days are bearable and some days the pain grips so tight that words refuse to form in my throat, to contemplate dual activities becomes impossible and simple tasks become incredibly difficult to perform. Most of us struggle with some ache or pain but chronic pain is unrelenting and can affect your mental health, your sleep and your relationships.
Self-compassion is the offering of kindness to oneself, without judgement, as you would offer compassion to a friend. Kirsten Neff explains self-compassion as having two sides; the tender supportive kindness and the fierce protective side. Learning to be gentle and forgiving with ourselves but also the ability to find our inner generator, when necessary, to move to action, rather than feeling helpless.
Different techniques work for different people and different techniques work for the same person at different times. The more techniques and tools you have the more empowered you are. One of the secrets to the success of using tools is to make them a part of your everyday daily practice. The more you use them when you don’t require them, the easier it is to use them when they become essential.
The first self-soothing technique I use I learned as a child, using my breath as an anchor and focus point. Breathing in and breathing out. Slowly. I find it most useful to count. Breathe in for a count of four and breathe out for a count of four. Just continue to do this. Over and over. It becomes quite hypnotic and extremely settling. If you loose count or your focus just start again. This sounds too simple, but it is grounding, it centres one and has a calming effect on our nervous system, indicating to the body that we are safe.
Supportive touch is the second self-soothing technique. Place your hand (or both hands) over your heart centre (middle of the chest). Close your eyes and breathe in and out. You can also place a hand on the area of pain. Or one hand on the heart and one on the area of pain. Breathe. This can be enormously effective.
Movement can help us feel soothed. Children know instinctively to rock themselves to self-soothe. We have unlearned this behaviour as adults. Shaking brings our body back to homeostasis. Stand up and shake your whole body. Shake the fear away. Shake the energy around until all the feel-good energy is buzzing around.
One of my favourite memories is dancing, as the sun came up, all around my home, with my babies in my arms, and hearing them giggle. Play your favourite happy song and dance. Dancing is a sure way of increasing happy hormones and turning up your life force. Drive to work or the next big meeting playing that same happy song and see how your energy lifts.
Sometimes we feel completely immersed in pain or emotion. Mindfulness is another technique that can help us find our calm centre. One way is to sit with the pain or emotion; acknowledge it, be completely with it, describe it, and then slowly release the energy. We are not our thoughts. We are not our pain. We are not our emotions. We can, through practice, take back control, and feel the emotion but not be the emotion. Feel the pain but not be the pain.
Positive psychology research, including that of Lea Waters, shows the importance of strength-based solutions; identifying our strengths to overcome adversity. What strength do you have to move through anxiety or pain? I often use humour. Laughter can truly be healing. Making a joke can lighten the mood and release energy, it also forces you to breathe. Another strength is kindness toward others. Focusing our energy on someone else increases our feel-good hormones and helps motivate us through our pain. Learn more about my work here.
I am not saying that my pain is gone. I am saying I manage my pain better each day. I’m no guru. I’m learning. I lean in rather than fight. By leaning in, accepting the pain, the fear, the anxiety it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. I sit with it. Acknowledge it. And release it. Meditation, mindfulness, movement, connecting to nature and friends all seem to be parts of a very complicated puzzle. And for me that seems to be a part of the answer.
Let me know what works for you,
May you be happy.
May you be well.
May you be free.
May you live with grace and an open heart.