Solace: something that gives comfort, consolation, or relief.
We all need it, and we all find it somewhere.
Some of us when asked, “Where do you find solace?” would answer in bed, a bath, alcohol, food, music, or physical movement.
Others would not have an answer.
When we are under stress, we forget to do the small things that help us cope. This is natural. Our animal selves/ limbic systems/ lizard brains get stuck in fight, flight or freeze and we ping-pong from feeling overwhelmed about work to feeling overwhelmed about food and fitness or the housework we have left undone, then something unexpected happens like we get sick or our car gets broken into and that’s it. We are officially fried.
The common belief is that heightened anxiety helped us keep alert to danger on the imaginary prehistoric savannah of our deep past. And while that may be true, knowing that doesn’t help us when we find ourselves in line to get fast food more often then we feel comfortable with, sleeping poorly, or being uncharacteristically emotional. For that matter, I often wonder if the sheer speed and volume of our everyday modern lives keeps our stress levels in the yellow zone much of the time, making it all too easy to trip over into burnout.
So what can help us?
What if we were able to rescue ourselves in small ways every single day? And I don’t mean that evening beer. What if we worked on offering solace to ourselves as a regular and healthy part of our day, the way we brush our teeth, take a shower, or drink water?
Where we might find solace:
- In the shower, stretch your body. In particular, hold your hands behind your back, pull them down, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and stretch your sternum and chin up. Feel the stretch across your chest. Take a couple of deep breaths. Afterward, feel how your breath feels more expansive. Let that sensation affect your mood.
- While you are driving in the car, talk to yourself out loud. I like to start by asking, “So what’s going on?,” the same as I would to a friend. Then let whatever comes up come out. It doesn’t have to make sense or be in any particular order. When I feel good, sometimes my talking turns into a made up, off-tune song about how I love my life. When there are some feelings or thoughts that need to move, I say them out loud and have a look at them, often dialoguing with myself about their validity (is that really true?), or if I need to take any action about them (what do you need to do or say about this?). Sometimes I just need to vent. It is also a great place to rehearse upcoming conversations you may feel anxious about. You can repeat key phrases so that when the time comes you are able to speak confidently.
- Hands-on-heart breathing. This is just like it sounds. Put both your hands on your sternum, one on top of the other. Gently press into your body so that you can feel the contact of your hands on your ribcage. Each inhalation, breathe up onto that pressure. Each exhalation, soften your face. Five breaths is a nice amount. This can be done any time, and usually offers a feeling of comfort and grounding. It is especially good when you have racing thoughts.
- Look up at the sky (maybe not if it is pouring down rain) any time of day or night. When was the last time you looked at the stars? Looking up, you guessed it, helps our mood lift. I enjoy watching the way the sky changes at different seasons and times of day near my home, which segues into the next suggestion,
- Look for beauty in everyday life. There are small beauties everywhere. The structure of vegetables is beautiful, for example. Our animals, loved ones, houseplants, art, the birds in the sky, the leaves on the trees… beauty is everywhere. Noticing it softens our edges. Being softer allows us to let go of tension we don’t need.
- Practice gratitude (not comparison). Simply looking for things to be grateful for changes our neurochemistry for the better (I find that completely wild). Many people find that listing three things either first thing in the morning or last thing at night, without repetitions (every once in a while repetitions are ok, but try to avoid the same list every day) is a good way to easily fit this practice into their lives.
- I saved my favorite for last. Simply remind yourself that with the next exhale you can relax back into your own body the way you would into a soft chair, dropping down and back. Go ahead, try it. It’s just one breath.
“You can’t take the sky from me” – The Serenity song, Firefly