Stopping to Smell the Lavender

In the last blog I began by sharing the lovely story of my dogs need to calm himself by sniffing poo.  Today I want to expand on what us humans need for self-soothing.  Until my graduate studies in psychology I had never really heard the term self-soothing or been taught any intentional strategies from my home.  So, I thought, maybe I am not the only one out there who is not familiar with the concept.

SELF-SOOTHING…. initially this term sounded weird to me, but I have grown to understand the importance of the need for every individual to find soothing for themselves.  As babies we need a grown up to help soothe us when we are upset, but part of maturing is the ability to sooth ourselves when we are upset. Ironically, as I wrote about Frizbee’s way of calming himself through sniffing, I began to notice similarities again with myself, and really all human beings.

Breathing is also a major form of self-soothing for humans. Thankfully not the sniffing poo sort, but deep slow breathing.  The common cliché, “stop and smell the roses,” comes to mind.  Science continues to point to the physiological effects of calming in the brain and nervous system when a person simply stops their busy life and takes a few deep breaths.  Isn’t it crazy how true some clichés can be?

Here is a simple practice I teach a lot in therapy that I have found personally very helpful when it comes to soothing my own anxiety. 

Self-Soothing Deep Breathing Practice:

  • Remember the number 3
  • Quiet your body by closing your eyes or softening your gaze, put your feet on the floor and focus on your breath
  • Notice how your body is already breathing for you
  • Then take a deep breath in through your nose while you slowly count to 3
  • Hold your breath and again slowly count to 3
  • Exhale with a slow count of 3 through your mouth
  • Repeat 3 times.
  • Slowly come back to your day and resume life

Maybe today is a day that your body needs some calming from life’s busy and chaotic pace.  The more you practice simple deep breathing like this exercise above the more your body is able to access this self-soothing practice when life is crazy or your anxiety crops up.  Thankful we are made slightly different from dogs and can find calm without finding something stinky to breath in!  Plus for an added bonus and to take the cliché even more seriously, smelling the scent of flowers like lavender can increase this calming effect even more.  Happy sniffing!

Thoughts from the Therapists Desk

Welcome to the Cultivate Counseling Services’ blog. Here you will find and be able to interact with our therapists as they share thoughts about life, psychological concepts and principles, their personal growth, and tips about cultivating a healthy life.

Currently, I, Kali Jensen, will be the primary author of the blog as the founding and first therapist of Cultivate Counseling Services, but as our practice grows so will our blog.

In beginning our blog I will start with the topic of anxiety through the ups and downs of training my new puppy Frizbee. I hope you enjoy!


Frizbee At 2 Months Old

I am currently in the midst of training up my not so new puppy Frizbee.  These first two years have pretty much been hell on earth.  The first year was full of medical problem after medical problem.  We became such regulars at the vet that they literally started to recognize my voice on the phone!  At one point they actually told us he was allergic to the sun because his nose started peeling, which made it so we had to apply sunscreen on his nose before going outside.  What, a dog allergic to the sun??!!

After the first year and way too many vet bills, then came the next saga, the naughty pup.  Frizbee decided he was in charge and although he knew all the rules by this point he decided he did not need to follow them.  So, we switched from vet bills to training bills.  His most fierce try at defiance was to claim the couch as his own.  Frizbee knew that he was not allowed on the couch so after he turned one he would actually try and bite you if you pushed him off the couch.  The problem for Frizbee is that this mama is not going to lose this battle so to this day we are still battling over the couch. I refuse to give up.

Through this second year of training the therapist in me has been psychoanalyzing this poor pup and myself as we have been battling our way to his two-year-old birthday.  Frizbee is a miniature Australian Shepherd, only he doesn’t realize he is mini.  One characteristic of Australian Shepherds is nervousness or anxiety.  Ironically one characteristic of myself is the same, so as you can imagine this does not always make for a good team!

Recently in our training trials I was working with a trainer at our house for many reasons, but one in particular is that Frizbee really wants to chase cars.  Obviously, this is a big problem for him, although he doesn’t think so (did I mention he doesn’t realize he is mini).  Apparently, Frizbee just wants to herd them, but I would like to be able to walk through my neighborhood without him spinning and barking his way into a frenzy every time a car passes.  As the trainer and I walked him through the neighborhood, Frizbee felt the need to stop and sniff everything along the way and especially liked to stop and smell any poop he found.  I, of course, instinctively pulled him away from the poop because that is just gross, but the trainer stopped me.  She patiently and sweetly explained how pleasurable it is for dogs to sniff poop and how it is really calming for them.  What?! 

Since this insightful and still gross lesson I have changed my ways of walking my pup.  When we are walking and he gets all riled up about a car passing, I slow our pace down and let him sniff anything he likes, especially a good pile of poo.  It is amazing how this has helped him be able to handle another car passing.  In the past I would walk and rarely allow him to smell things, because it felt like we were never getting anywhere, but now with the extra time sniffing we are making huge headway in his resistance to trying to chase a car.  He can actually think now and listen to my commands when a car is coming and resist his desire to wrangle up those pesky cars.  His anxiety around herding the cars is calmed by the last pile of poop.

As I have been observing this on our many training walks, I find myself reflecting on my own anxiety.  On my own need to slow down and calm down and find something soothing after I am stressed out.  Often I treat myself the way I was treating Frizbee.  I hurry through life from one thing to the next, accomplishing the many things on my to do list each day.  Many of the tasks will stir up anxiety in me, from insecurity about my performance on a task, or completely missing something and yet I just keep going.  All the while anxiety is building up in me and often I don’t realize it.  Just like Frizbee I have one “car” pass and then another and another until I have lost my mind, my ability to hear my kids, my ability to calm down, my ability to hear someone speak into my life, because I am consumed with anxiety of a failed chance to herd the cars.

Frizbee’s little lesson of slowing down to smell the poop, of me slowing down to let him soothe himself a natural way a dog soothes himself, is also just what I need, just what my kids need, just what we all need.  The fast pace society we live in does not reward, or see the importance of slowing down to soothe ourselves.  As a parent I can see how I often do the same thing to my kids, I rush them from activity to activity and don’t leave enough space to debrief, to breathe, to rest and talk so that we can process the things that are adding to stress and anxiety.  In this season I am working on not just letting Frizbee slow down to smell the poop, but allowing that for myself and my kids too.

-Kali Jensen