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6 Quick Self-soothing Strategies for Anxiety

One of the most challenging aspects of recovery for dysregulated eaters is soothing themselves when they’re anxious. Sometimes you might not even realize that you’re brimming with anxiety until you’ve eaten half a bag of cookies or find yourself at the McDonalds window giving your order. It’s vital to know your signals of experiencing anxiety, so you can soothe yourself before it drives you to mindless eating.

Start by identifying three ways you know you’re anxious—difficulty focusing, feeling jumpy, thoughts running amuck in your head, clenching your teeth, tightening your jaw, shoulders and neck muscles tensing, a knot in your gut, rushing around (that’d be me), feeling inner pressure “to do,” or raising your voice when you don’t need to. Anxiety signals are both physical and mental. Make sure you recognize your signals before reading on.

Now you’re ready to consider self-soothing actions. Here are three physical and three emotional strategies to reduce anxiety:
1. Stop what you’re doing and acknowledge that you feel anxious and form an intent to reduce the feeling. This is your job at the moment, so don’t ignore it.
2. Take three slow, deep breaths in and out followed by three circular neck rolls in each direction, then stretch your entire body (head to toe) three times.
3. Visualize your neck, shoulders, torso, back/buttocks, legs and arms melting like butter. Keep repeating that you’re calm and relaxed, directing your body to chill out.
4. Smile and give yourself a hug, a big body squeeze, so you know you mean it.
5. Tell yourself: This too shall pass, I’m fine, I know this will work out, I’m safe and secure, I’m doing the best I can, I’ll manage whatever happens, or I’m okay now.
6. Recall what true hunger feels like for you and assertively but kindly tell yourself that you’re not hungry and do not want food.

If need be, repeat the above steps. The desire for food is a miscue from your brain due to an old habit of food seeking when you’re anxious. Match the intensity of self-soothing with the intensity of your anxiety, that is, if your anxiety drops, back off a bit from self-soothing, or ramp it up if anxiety comes roaring back. If you take out food to eat, put it away. If you take one bite, stop eating. If you eat half of something, leave it and return to self-soothing.

Never depend on will power to stop mindless eating. Use loving directives to talk yourself down from anxiety and make sure to remind yourself that your cravings are not about food. Knowing this will make it easier to not eat when you’re not hungry and will retrain your brain by helping it recognize anxiety for what it is, that is, not a food craving. Remember this pairing: hunger needs food and anxiety needs self-soothing.

What Is Eating in Moderation?
A Tale of Emotional Re-regulation

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