The Fine Line between Self-Soothing and Self-Medicating

Tim ZimmerNewsletter Articles

There is more to healing than doing everything “right. It’s not only what we do but how we do it that determines the end result on the body and psyche.  A clear intent to feel good can dramatically shift how what you do is received in your system.

We simply must, for our well-being, be able to access the Parasympathetic part of the nervous system (PSNS). That’s simply a long technical word for your happy place! This is the place where you feel engaged, relaxed and at ease; how your body functions depends upon it. Digestion and restoration happen in your happy place. This place does not respond to conscious demands like “Digest now!” “Eliminate now!” “Relax now!”

When life, even our well-intended self-care, is served up with a big fat dose of stress, we keep the Sympathetic part of the nervous system (SNS) activated. If PSNS is your happy place, SNS is your call to ACTION. It is typically referred to as “Fight or Flight” and most of us spend entirely too much time there.  This place is all about doing and while activated, prevents the body from truly receiving nourishment, digesting or restoring.  Thus, a seemingly nurturing activity such as eating, drinking, exercising or resting can deliver an unintended negative effect. This may be a clue to consider if you think you are doing all the “right” things but you are not getting the results you desire.

Consider these, perhaps simplistic but illustrative, examples. They are, admittedly, opposite ends of a continuum so keep in mind that there is much gray area to be explored between them.

“Ahhhhh, think I’ll sit down, pour a glass of wine and relax a moment.”

“Where’s the wine?! I NEED a glass of wine, (maybe a bottle) to RELAX!”

“Mmmmm…this chocolate is delicious. As it slowly melts in my mouth I taste the bitterness of the chocolate, the smooth vanilla undertones; the consistency of it is dreamy.”
“Where’s the chocolate? I NEED more chocolate! I really shouldn’t eat chocolate, it’s fattening but hey it’s full of anti-oxidants, right? More! Give me more!”

“Mmmmm…these vegetables are crisp, crunchy and delicious. I am really enjoying the tastes and the textures. I feel nourished with every bite. Delicious!”
“I have to eat more vegetables! I’m gonna get sick if I don’t eat more vegetables, my doctor said so!”

“I had a lovely walk. The breeze was soft, the view was divine and I noticed the leaves are changing color. I feel great.”
“I have to go for a walk or maybe a run! Need to stay fit. Need to lose weight. Need to de-stress. I’m exhausted.”

“Wow! That ten minute meditation really restored me. I feel ready to go.”
“I don’t’ have TIME to stop for ten minutes. Must get it done; there’s a lot to do! But I’m supposed to do my meditation exercise, ugh I feel so guilty for not doing it!”

“I’m really looking forward to my treatments at the Tummy Temple this week. It feels so good to be giving my body the attention it deserves.”
“I NEED to get to my appointment. I have to fix these problems. I’m falling apart! I can squeeze it in but I need to hurry!”

The first is obviously an example of self-soothing, an effective way of accessing your happy place. The second is an example of self-medicating, a very effective way of accessing your call to ACTION. It’s the same activity but the intent directs the focus toward either the PSNS –“rest and relax” or SNS- “fight or flight”.

Any endeavor, even one like receiving bodywork or going to the spa can have a motive behind it that sabotages the benefit.  When stress and desperation are the motives they often become the result. Do you feel guilty for taking the time away from family and work or do you feel good about looking after yourself so that you can be more present in everything you do and with everyone you encounter?  

Like a garden, the body must be seeded, weeded, watered and lovingly tended in order to flourish and provide you with a cornucopia of bounty. A garden can’t be rushed unless you are willing to bombard it with harsh chemicals that actually take all the nourishment out of what you’ve grown. The body is just the same. A natural unfolding and tending works best and is the most sustainable in the long run.

This is a personal case study I have been working on for over half my life and it’s forever a work in progress. It’s not always possible to wash all the stress off before consumption. Riding the points between the extremes of the continuum as well as exploring both ends of it is simply part of life. However, if we clearly intend that whatever we do, the desired end result is to feel good, we can tip the balance in our lives toward our happy place.  


Shelly Shelley LMP