Top 10 ways to soothe when you need relief

I know a bit about needing relief. I’ve felt that many days, from different sources of stress: relationships, health, financial pressures, uncertainty over a looming decision, all difficult in different ways. Depending on the weight of the issue, sometimes it feels like I can barely function, other times the worry is like an overlay…or maybe an underlay… on top of everything else going on.

When I’m struggling with something heavy on my heart, I need to cocoon and hide myself. In the hardest moments, I want to sleep. I know that’s a sign of depression, and though I’ve never been clinically depressed, I know sleep is a coping mechanism for dealing with difficult emotional issues.

I also find it hard to stay focused and be productive. I’ve learned that action is a good antidote to feeling sad, but it can be hard to jump-start myself.

My automatic response to distress is to mask what’s bothering me…not sure if somehow I think that will make the situation go away, or if it’s a retreat from confronting what’s painful…if I ignore it, I won’t have to deal with it.

My way of describing this is “putting on the face.” You know, when you act like life is normal, you greet co-workers, go through the motions, even manage to smile and do whatever is on your agenda.

But all the time, inside you’re dying. You’re dying to hear from someone, or about something, or afraid of an approaching deadline.

You’re afraid.

Fear and I are old friends. I can tell the extent of my stress by the persistence of the “engine” of fear I feel running in my stomach. You know when you hear references to the feeling in the pit of your stomach? Yes, that’s the one I mean…fear that is so real you can feel it.

It wakes me up at night, this fear. It rouses me from sound sleep to course through me, my mind moving back to familiar grooves as I think about whatever the issue is, once again.

So what’s the answer? Unfortunately, sometimes there’s not one.

Some fears do come true, and there’s no changing that. Tests come back with scary results. People die. Bad things happen.

Some situations are not about circumstances that are beyond our control, but about people who are beyond control. Wouldn’t life be easy if everyone did what I want them to do? Well, that’s not happening either. Or at least, not in a predictable way.

So, how can you find relief, some measure of peace, some way to cope that’s healthy and sustainable?

Because let’s face it, there are all sorts of answers that are not healthy, not sustainable, not realistic.

I can’t sleep my troubles away, don’t want to medicate to handle life, and living in denial doesn’t help either.

So this is what I do…my top ten ways to comfort and soothe when I’m in the valley:

  1. It sounds counter-intuitive, but I imagine the worst. I just go ahead and get it over with. What if my worst fears come true? What will happen then? Of course I can’t foresee exactly what variables could come into play. But by going to my imagined worst-case scenario, I create a vision of what I would do, what I could do. By facing the worst, I can have at least a minimum plan of response. Maybe I’d need to travel, or consider how a situation would impact financially. I try to think through options in advance. Instead of seeing this as dwelling on the negative, I view this as confronting and planning ahead so I’m prepared, as well as I can be.

  2. Once I’ve imagined the worst and think of how I would address it, I imagine the best. What if the best possible outcome happens? What then? I imagine how that result would impact me…even good outcomes can create change, and I want to be aware so I can be prepared for the good as well as the bad. At least this step is positive and more hopeful than the first, so it’s an easier exercise.

  3. I think about things that I can do to soothe in the moment. Sometimes that means doing something physical, like a work out, or just getting out and going for a drive. Other ideas: clean something, paint something, cook something. Do anything that is a positive physical act that gets me moving and helps me feel productive. Stay on top of day-to-day chores. Nothing is more paralyzing than letting go of your physical environment when you’re mentally stressed…if you’re already fragile, living in chaos will only make it worse. Put your mind on auto-pilot and force yourself to keep a routine going. On the other hand, if you can’t do something active, try being still. Meditate and just breathe.

  4. I have a number of “go to” authors that I read when I need encouragement or comfort, or even a challenge to hold on and breathe and be strong. Knowing whose voices will speak to my heart and mind is a good tool to have in my arsenal to ward off sadness and depression.

  5. I think about who among family and friends I can reach to, not necessarily to talk about what’s troubling me, but just for the connection. When I can have a “normal” conversation about the day-to-day, it reminds me that there are a lot of wonderful people and good things in life beyond the concern of the moment, and it helps to distract me for a while, at least on a surface level.

  6. I talk out loud to myself, usually while I pace, or drive. This one may seem strange, and I don’t do it when I’m with anyone else, but it really helps me to work through my plans, fears, hopes, etc., to hear the words out loud. It’s almost like I can move outside myself and get a little perspective.

  7. I try to get out and meet a friend, have dinner with someone, do something to break my day or evening, change the conversation going on in my mind. That can’t happen every day, but having something on my calendar helps me to look forward to a change of pace, and something that is uplifting. This also includes things like doing something helpful for someone else…anything that gets me out and connecting with other people is a mood lifter, and a distraction, and that’s healthy. I try to do this even if I’m not in the mood to do it at the beginning. Acting my way to feeling better is a positive way to improve my mindset.

  8. I write. I’m a writer, so that’s therapeutic for me. If I can put what bothers me into words, I can get a better grip on the whole thing. I can vent, rant, be sad, talk it all out on paper, and oddly, writing through an issue gives me a different perspective than talking it through out loud or with someone else. It also gives me a record to review down the road. It’s a good check to see if I’ve sorted myself out and resolved what’s troubling me. I don’t try to keep a daily journal when I’m stressed, I write as I feel the need. But I do keep what I write, sometimes just until I have an answer, and sometimes longer if the issue is deeper, and something I may need to visit again.

  9. I talk it out with a trusted soul. Depending on the issue, everyone in my life may know what’s going on, or only a select few. I don’t like to air my issues casually, but being able to open up to the right person or group can do a world of good.

  10. I pray, if possible, out loud, or I sometimes write my prayers. If you’re not a praying person, this one won’t help. For me, there’s relief in taking my heart to God, and believing that he hears and cares about what hurts in my life.

So that’s it. I hope, next time you feel your fear, some of these ideas will help. And if you have a great strategy for dragon-slaying, please share…I can always use another weapon in my arsenal!  ~ Sheila

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It’s almost Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving…can’t believe it will be here next week. This is an off year for us. Rob will be working out of town, covering call, so we’ll be a bit casual about our holiday celebration. Some years we’ve been able to connect with family, but this won’t be one of those times.

This year we’ll be on a small island in Alaska, where Rob works episodically. I’m working in Ketchikan through Wednesday afternoon, so I’ll take some of the fixings for our Thanksgiving over with me when I join him, but most likely, we’ll share the big meal of the day with a few others from the clinic who’ve stayed in town. And that’s the main thing. Thanksgiving is not a meal to eat with one or two people, if you can help it. It needs a large group, a full table, a mix of favorite foods, old and new, traditional and experimental, all blended together.

The image of the feast, the expectation of a crowd, whether it be family, or friends, or a mix of both, is so ingrained that I literally can’t imagine a different scenario that would occur by choice. To celebrate Thanksgiving at all is to acknowledge it as perhaps the most American holiday. The 4th of July is a celebration of a new government, a new nation being born. But Thanksgiving recognizes the survival of the people who came here to create what would become America.

Many people have a tradition of sharing around the table what each person is thankful for. This year I am thankful for a season of surprises. My year has had twists and turns. I began it thinking I would sell a house and move, change jobs, encounter other life altering decisions along the way. I am not (yet) selling my house, or moving…you can never tell what housing markets are going to do. My work is mutating, in ways I did not foresee; in ways that are challenging me to think about how I work, where I work, and why I work. Life is full, if a bit unpredictable. I find myself feeling grateful for what has worked, philosophical about what hasn’t, and curious to know what will happen next.

This year I’m thankful for family that is well, for the ties that bind, for friendships that have deepened, for a little one in my life that is growing and changing from a toddler into a little girl, complete with words and opinions. She’ll soon be two, our Riley girl, and quite a girl she is. She brings a smile to my heart. I’m grateful for all the family who send love to me, and who receive it in return. I’m grateful for the recognition that there is a passing of connection from one generation to the next. I feel it with my grandmother (90+!), my mother, my daughter, my son, my granddaughter.

I’m thankful for my husband who is by my side through the ups and downs, who still makes me laugh, still makes me tear up in a sentimental moment, knows what I am thinking most of the time. I’m grateful for a partner in life.

It is easy to take these people in my life for granted. Some of them have been present as long as I have been alive. Others have been part of my life so long I can hardly recall a time without them. Regardless, I want to acknowledge that the few people out of all the billions on the planet that touch my life, and in return, allow me to touch their lives, are the small group of family and friends that care, support, nurture, cry, rejoice, celebrate, encourage, and participate with me as I make my way. They are the ones who provide the color, the music, the faces of my memories.

It’s almost Thanksgiving. I wish you a joyful day, and a heart that is thankful.