It was one of those phone calls. Sister-in-law. Young nephew. Arm broken. She couldn’t reach my brother visiting our grandmother. This auntie was in the car before we hung up, and on the way, I reached my brother.
Later, while my brother and sister-in-law consulted with the doctor, I stayed with the boy to hold and soothe. As he nestled his head against my chest, all I could do was keep his arm stable, hold him, and speak gently.
Did I have any candy with me? Food was my first thought for soothing him. It was my “go-to.”
The urge to soothe by putting something in our mouths comes early. You’ve likely seen sonograms that capture a baby sucking his thumb. After birth, when a baby cries, we put something in their mouths – bottle, breast, pacifier. As we get older, we trade that pacifier for a thumb, our nails – later a doughnut, and so the habit of soothing ourselves with food is ingrained. In times of stress, sorrow, or pain, we bring food.
It’s natural – it’s normal – it’s an easy way to soothe. It’s just not very helpful when our clothes begin to tighten. Not so soothing then, is it?
Breaking that impulse or habit is the hard part. It’s not like food is our ONLY option, right? There are other soothers. They’re just not as easily accessible or convenient – until we choose to make them more accessible and convenient. We can always create new habits, new pathways, new options, but it requires intention and persistence. Few habits are created without effort. We have to keep choosing the better option until we no longer have to think about choosing it.
What truly soothes you? Make a list. Include things that are quick and easy, like a five-minute walk or a quick video game or YouTube video, calling a friend, listening to a calming breathing mediation – whatever meets your specific needs. We’re all different, so it’s important to discover what works for YOU. Then list things that would be more deeply soothing. That lovely bubble bath, yoga or Pilates, a run, watching a favorite comedy that makes you belly-laugh, a puzzle, or a girl’s night. Again, it’s individual.
Put that list on your phone, on a sticky note, easily accessible. It takes time to build a “go-to” habit, but having a list of options handy makes it easier to make the choice.