Sometimes an emotional crisis can’t be avoided. When an emotional crisis happens, it is important to know how to calm down. There are many ways to self-soothe, but for now I’ll focus on three: petting an animal, burning incense, and drinking herbal tea.
Pet an animal
I remember when I was in the psychiatric unit at Wishard Memorial Hospital, there was a therapy dog on staff: Amber, a pit bull mix. When she came in, the whole room would light up. Amber noticeably affected people in a positive way.
That’s not just my observation. According to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, therapy dogs have been shown to increase endorphins–a feel-good hormone–in humans.
Try all you want–if you’re a dog person, it’s impossible to stay in a bad mood while petting a dog. If you’re a cat person, it’s impossible to be upset when hearing a purr. Pets have health benefits, including mental health benefits.
“People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature,” Dr. Blair Justice of the University of Texas said on WebMD.
About.com’s Elizabeth Scott concurs. “According to one study, men with AIDS who did not own a pet were about three times more likely to report symptoms of depression than men who did not have AIDS. But men with AIDS who had pets were only about 50 percent more likely to report symptoms of depression, as compared to men in the study who did not have AIDS.”
I’m sure it works with any animal–I used to have pet rats that were helpful. So don’t worry if your pet is a little off-beat: as we said in the Army, “If it’s stupid but it works, it’s not stupid.”
According to Hebrew University of Jerusalem, burning incense, especially frankincense, has mental health benefits. Specifically, it reduces anxiety and has an antidepressant effect, and also serves as a sedative. I keep incense on hand for precisely this reason.
The Khacho Ghakyil Ling Nunnery in Kathmandu, Nepal, makes Tibetan style incense which claims to have mental health benefits. “This high quality incense contains special herbs and sandalwood that calm the mind,” reads the label of the Tibetan Meditation Incense. “It prevents depression and anxiety and promotes good sleep, mental quietude and peace of mind.”
Does it work? To be honest, there’s not a lot of research in the area. That said, there’s not a lot of research into mindfulness meditation’s mental health benefits. But what have you got to lose by supplementing your medication and therapy with some aromatherapy?
Drinking herbal tea
I’m fortunate to know a woman who has forgotten more about herbal medicine than I will ever know. She runs a shop called TeaPots n Treasures in downtown Indianapolis. The shop’s unofficial slogan is “We have a tea for that”, and they do. She has several different teas for anxiety and depression, some of which are perfectly safe to use in conjunction with psychiatric medication. She introduced me to yerba mate, which is used in South America as a natural antidepressant, mood stabilizer and stress reliever.
According to the book 20,000 Secrets of Tea, other herbs that are good for anxiety are hops, kava kava, lemon balm, linden blossoms, rosemary, St. John’s Wort, and verbain. I’ve had luck with valerian root. You have to find what works for you, but be sure to check with your doctor first.
The tea itself may have benefits, but the process of drinking it also helps when you drink it mindfully. Feel the heat of the cup on your hands. Smell the fragrance of the tea. Taste the blend.
What ways do you self-soothe during an emotional crisis?