Ways to Soothe Yourself (But Not with Food)


My Grandma Kay passed away in 1993. She was 86 years old and I had been quite close to her.

One memory of her in particular always makes me chuckle. My plan was to pick her up and take her to see the movie Back to the Future II. I was sure she’d love it. (We both thought it was awful.)

Her plan was to insist I take her to the grocery store after the movie, because the home for seniors in which she lived wouldn’t allow her to eat bacon. (We both thought bacon was great.)

I obediently took her to the store, and she delighted in riding the cart around and filling her basket with treats. Bacon. Sausage. Butter. Toblerone Chocolate.

After her shopping spree, I took her home and dropped her in front of her building. I rolled down the car window as she walked away and leaned over to say goodbye one last time. Hearing me, she paused and turned. A big smile spread across her face. “Have fun now,” she laughed. “It’s later than you think.”

Twelve years later when she died, I didn’t know how to feel or what to do. At first, I ate a bowl of ice cream. Then, some crackers and cheese. I was considering more ice cream when it occurred to me I hadn’t cried yet. I remember thinking, “Maybe I should find another way to deal with this.”

I had been to therapy and meetings for sobriety, so I knew there were more ways to grieve than to numb my feelings with food.

I decided to practice crying. A scary idea at the time, but my therapist had sworn to me crying wouldn’t destroy me.

I went downstairs to my bedroom, took my grandmother’s old china doll off the self, and held her tight. When I started to feel the sadness well up, I intentionally relaxed my muscles and let myself fall into my feelings. I cried for about a minute, but it was an honest cry. I allowed my feelings with intention. I remember feeling proud of myself.

In that moment, holding the doll and crying felt soothing to me. Here are some other ways you can soothe yourself as you face the stress and sadness (and food cravings) in your life during this difficult time:

1. Anchor yourself with mundane routines. Sometimes the familiar can be quite comforting. Give yourself the gift of a normal day. Get up at the usual time (from before covid), shower and get dressed, eat your typical healthy breakfast, and so on. Engage in familiar tasks, such as dusting, chopping vegetables, drinking a cup of tea while you mull over a meal plan. Give these things your full attention. Be in the moment as best you can.

2. Make an intentional choice to select your focus for the day. Whenever you find yourself slipping into stressful thoughts, return gently to your focus.

3. If you are especially stressed and need to feel grounded, connect with all your senses. For example, step outside and notice what you’re sensing. What sounds do you hear? Can you feel a breeze on your skin? What do you see? Is there a scent in the air?

4. Connect with your breath. Go to a quiet space and be still for even just one minute. Take some slow breaths in and out, allowing yourself to breath deeper as your lungs begin to stretch and your muscles relax. You can place your hand on your heart and breathe into it. Or on your belly, which will rise and fall with each breath.

There are many more self-soothing strategies, but this should get you started. Every time I have added something like these examples to my lifestyle I have felt awkward and resistant at first. So, thank your resistant voice for speaking up, but then give the strategy a try anyway. It gets easier over time.

Please know you are not alone. If you are struggling to manage your stress and feel like you need serious help, many therapists are working by Zoom right now. There are hotlines you can take advantage of. It’s important to get enough of the right kind of support.

Let me know if I can help get you pointed in the right direction. And take good care.