9 Ways Women Can Go from Self-Sacrifice to Self-Soothing
By Jody Trager, PhD, Program Director at Promises Malibu Vista
Many women feel unworthy. Cultural and family expectations, along with certain experiences and messages, can lead women onto a path of self-sacrifice, self-neglect and overwhelming emotions. Some of the underlying issues that impact women’s well-being include:
Trauma and abuse. Sexual assault, rape and domestic abuse are some of the violent acts more likely to happen to women. Those raised in chaotic family systems or subjected to early trauma may also enter dysfunctional or abusive adult relationships. Trauma brings an extra layer of shame, self-blame, and feelings of guilt and helplessness.
Responsibility for others. Women are expected to do the lion’s share of domestic work, including raising the children and tending to needs in their community. Many are caregivers through all stages of life, from motherhood to eldercare, often putting themselves last. Studies show this level of social responsibility can cause psychological distress.
Depression and other mood disorders. Research shows women are twice as likely to suffer from major depressive disorder as men, and struggles with depression continue as women age. Genetics and hormonal fluctuations play a part and psychosocial events such as stress about roles, victimization, sex-specific socialization, disadvantaged social status and lower wages are thought to contribute to women’s vulnerability to depression.
Tips for Self-Soothing
At Promises Malibu Vista we often ask clients to think of one thing they’d like to do for themselves, but the role of “doing for others” is so engrained that they often can’t think of anything. One way to start is to discover how to soothe the parasympathetic nervous system, which governs the flight, fight or freeze response. When the nervous system is out of balance, it’s difficult to regulate emotions.
Women can tap into internal experiences that can empower their external lives. Here are some self-soothing techniques to get you started:
- Get enough sleep. Overwork, worry, grief and restlessness can make it difficult to get enough quality sleep. And certain stages of life ― early motherhood and menopause, for example — carry a particularly high risk of sleep deprivation and exhaustion. When you regulate sleep hygiene, the brain and body are able to recharge, which can improve your ability to face the next day with clarity and fortitude. Get started by setting a sleep routine, including a time you go to bed and a ritual before bedtime such as five minutes of meditation or writing a gratitude list. Also make sure you have comfortable pillows and bedding.
- Create a support system. If family isn’t the tribe that offers you sustenance, create one of your own design. This may include friends and those with like-minded interests. Find healthy groups to join — maybe a lecture series, movie or book club — and hang out with people that respect you. If you don’t have a lot of time to socialize, blend it into what you’re already doing. For example, if you step out for coffee, go with a friend. Or exercise by taking a walk with someone you trust.
- Play music. Music has a way of lifting a bad mood. A recent study showed it may regulate dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in emotional behavior and mood regulation. The effects vary from person to person so it’s important to identify music that feeds your soul, makes you feel happy or brings your energy up when you feel low.
- Take a bath. Sliding into a warm bath is like a comforting, watery embrace. If you like scents, aromatherapy salts, oils or candles can add to the relaxing and mind-clearing experience. As you soak, imagine your worries washing away and then see them traveling down the drain when you are done.
- Enjoy a comedy. Anything that inspires you to mirthful laughter is healthy. This has been researched extensively and science continues to show laughter helps improve mood. A funny movie can turn a sad day around, or can be a preventive measure. With online streaming you can access movies and shows just about anywhere and anytime you need a laugh.
- Make a meal of it. Solid nutrition helps nurture a healthy mind but there is also magic in meal preparation. Setting the table with your best dishes and treating yourself to delicious food can feed your sense of self-worth by sending important messages: I am important enough to be treated like a visiting diplomat. I am worthy of a nutritious, home-cooked meal.
- Explore the world with fiction. A light-hearted book can transport you to another world. Pick a genre you love or something you’d like to try such as a mystery or romance book. Studies have shown the brain experiences fiction as reality, so treat yourself to a story you’d love to live in for a while. The act of reading itself is relaxing.
- Experience nature. Whether you love the ocean, parks or an outdoor ice skating rink, find a place where you can stop and be present with the beauty of nature. Go for walks or sit, rest and contemplate. Enjoy this as frequently as possible. Growing evidence suggests that being around natural environments may be associated with mental health benefits and lower stress.
- Use cold water to snap back. If you get into emotional hot water take a quick cold shower or splash cold water on your face. It’s been shown that cold water can trigger a flood of dopamine to the brain that can counteract negative feelings and boost mood. It’s a fast way to get dysregulated emotions under control.
Women are typically multitaskers who try to do so much. Recognize you can’t accomplish everything you want to do, at least not with the same intensity, all at once. Select things that are meaningful and manageable for this moment in time. Ultimately, you want that elusive balance between responsibilities, work and enjoying life.