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Can You Just Relax?

Relaxing and soothing yourself is a common personal challenge for many when they experience big emotions or problematic situations. The situation can be exacerbated when a friend, co-worker, spouse, or parent tries to “fix” the situation by recommending that you “just relax” or “calm down.”

How many times have you heard or uttered the phrase “you just need to relax” when a friend or co-worker is experiencing a big emotion? Have you ever been in a heated argument with your spouse or partner and they’ve said “can you settle down?” If you have kids, how many times have you gritted your teeth and calmly asked them to “calm down!”

All the while your friend, co-worker, spouse, or child is left trying to figure out...




Learning to relax and soothe yourself is a critical life skill. When our nervous system is in a relaxed state our heart beats more slowly and our blood pressure is reduced while our body functions in an overall healthier way. As a result, our brain can function in a more productive way supporting our efforts to manage the current situation.

Often for many, they try to rely on words, their inner talk track, or just become so overwhelmed that they shut down to self-soothe. Unfortunately, what can happen is that for many the words and language to self-soothe were never discussed, moreover the skills to relax were never taught. The behavior was never modeled appropriately. Therefore, many people end up rehearsing the situation and swirling around in a place of fear, sadness, anger, or frustration.

To support my clients, in addition to breathing & mindfulness exercises to self-soothe, I offer alternative resources. We have a powerful set of senses we can leverage. There are several approaches to self-soothing that involve the use of our smell, sight, hearing, taste, and touch.

Our sense of smell can trigger memories that make you feel a certain way. By identifying a smell that evokes good feelings or even enables you to find a more relaxed state you can leverage this powerful sensory tool. Once you have identified a smell, apply it to a small item such as a handkerchief and carry it in your pocket, purse, or jacket.

What we look at can have powerful effects on us. Our sight can take us to many magical places. Find an image that brings you a soothing or calming feeling. Carry a small photo of a special person or place that evokes memories that bring you back to a state of calm.

While each of us has different tastes listening to music our sense of hearing can be relaxing as well. Listening to soothing music, audio books, a podcast, or simply finding a quiet place to sit and just listening to the noises around can offer an outlet to bring ourselves back to calm.

Food or beverages can generate recollections from the past. The sense of taste is a powerful tool when used in a healthy way. Find tastes that are pleasing to you and keep them tucked away for those unnerving moments. A sweet treat such as a piece of candy or gum, dark chocolate, a favorite calming beverage such as tea, or a visit to that favorite restaurant can be a way to find calm.

For many, they often forget about using our sense of touch to self-soothe. There are many tactile sensations that can be pleasing and calm us such as petting an animal, rubbing a favorite stone or gem, taking a hot or cold shower, submerging ourselves in a bubble bath, or treating yourself to a massage.

Next time you find yourself in a situation where you need to “just relax” or “calm down” try something new by utilizing one of your five senses.

We are all unique and these approaches are meant to offer you a reminder that there are many ways to relax and calm yourself. Always remember, If you attempt one of these and it doesn’t help you feel relaxed, don’t do it. Try another!