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An Executive Function – Self-Soothing When You’re Emotionally Dysregulated - 051

ask dr. b executive function podcast Oct 16, 2017

Hey ADDers!  Do you get overwhelmed, have meltdowns and generally have a hard time calming yourself down when you experience an intense emotion or emotional situation?  If so, this episode is for you!!

And if you haven’t yet listened to episode 050, it’s an important milestone for me and I shared four special things in that episode, including a free gift giveaway for you.  Be sure to listen and claim your free gift before the offer expires.  Enjoy!

In this episode, I talk about:

  • Grounding Techniques
  • Self-Soothing Strategies for Quick Shifts
  • Self-Soothing Self-Talk
  • Self-Soothing With Your Senses

Developing your Executive Function Skills and shifting your limiting beliefs is the fastest and most effective way to overcome ADHD limitations, find focus, gain confidence, and newfound freedom in your life!

My mission is to put an end to the worldwide needless suffering of adults with ADHD and those with under-developed Executive Function Skills - whether from ADHD, chronic depression or anxiety, trauma, addictions, or chronic illnesses.  And, you don't need a formal diagnosis to know you need help developing these executive function skills in order to greatly reduce your suffering.


Full Episode Transcript Today is Episode 51 with Dr B.

Hey ADDers! Do you get overwhelmed, have meltdowns and generally have a hard time calming yourself down when you experience an intense emotion or emotional situation? If so, this episode is for you!!

And if you haven’t yet listened to episode 050, it’s an important milestone for me and I shared four special things in that episode, including a free gift giveaway for you. Be sure to listen and claim your free gift before the offer expires. Enjoy!

I felt today’s topic should be one that I know adults with ADHD and Executive Function Deficits struggle with, and in fact, many don’t have a clue how to do. I’m talking about Self-Soothing, especially when you’re in an emotionally dysregulated state. That state might be overwhelm, frustration, anger, anxiety, depression, confusion, and more. What often happens when the adults I speak with get in these states is they go to something outside of themselves, to try and help regulate them. This might be food, sex, spending, smoking, drinking, drugs, TV, Internet, or many other options.

Years ago I wrote 5-pages about Self-Soothing for my clients, because so many of them didn’t know what I meant or what their options were. Even though that paper is not complete, I have made it available with this episode. And, that action allows me to practice allowing things to be “good enough” instead of perfect so I can provide value to you. You’ll find the link in the resources.

I want to help you to understand why or how your get dysregulated (not just the symptoms of your dysregulation) and what you can do to help yourself become more regulated. You’re going to want to practice self-regulation skills and self-soothing techniques when you aren’t dysregulated, so those skills will be readily available for use when you do become dysregulated. If you just listen to me talk about them here and think to yourself, “that sounds great for when I get overwhelmed,” and you don’t practice them, so they become automatic when you need them, these skills and strategies won’t work for you; they require practice – and lots of it!!

I want to take a few minutes here to familiarize you with what it means to be dysregulated, and then talk about how using any or all of your five senses, you can begin to self-soothe and regulate yourself.

Early trauma is believed to influence the programming of your body’s stress activation system, which is the HPA system (or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal system). It is believed that the stress activation set point is lower in those of us who have experienced traumatic events early on in life or have thought or felt that events were traumatic, even when they would not be to another person; it’s about how you experienced the events and the meaning you made about them.

The stress response is a natural part of your survival pattern. The amygdala is believed to be the part of your brain that processes basic feelings. It plays a big role in sounding an alert for threatening situations and triggers fight or flight behaviors. It’s very important when there is truly a threat you need to be alerted to, however, when it fires frequently and incorrectly and there isn’t an actual threat, it can be exhausting.

Intentionally creating sensations (with your five senses) that say there is no emergency, helps calm your body’s alert system so your pre-frontal cortex can regain its ability to respond rather than react; it can think and plan as it would normally do. If you are sipping a hot cup of tea, with your feet up on a footrest, listening to relaxing music, then there must be no reason to run at full speed to the nearest cave to escape danger.

It’s also important to feel that you are “grounded” rather than “flighty” due to the flooding of emotions that is taking place. “Grounding techniques” help you to stay in your body and in the present moment, rather than running away to escape the intensity of the experience. There are many ways of grounding yourself. I know that I have used most of these examples at one time or another in my life.

· Sipping on cool water.

· Running cool water over your hands or your feet.

· Placing a cool washcloth on your forehead or face.

· Grab tightly onto your chair as hard as you can with your hands or even wrap your feet around the legs of the chair as well.

· Carry a grounding object with you at all times to touch when you feel triggered; must have the association of grounding you though to be effective.

· Focus on your breathing and notice each inhale and exhale.

· Walk slowly, even in the room your in, and notice each footstep as you say “left or right” to yourself – be mindful of every moment and detail and say it a loud.

· And anything else you know or learn about yourself that keeps you in the moment and feeling more grounded and in your body.

It’s important to be able to shift your state quickly when you need to because your emotions are just too intense to tolerate for very long. Here’s a few things you can do to quickly shift your state:

· Jumping jacks or rebounder or jump rope or jog

· Put on music and dance

· Hug or stroke your pet

· Stroke your own face softly and gently

Self-soothing strategies are connected to your five senses. I want to take a moment to talk about each of your senses as well as examples of what you can do for self-soothing. It’s important that you completely focused on the task in a mindful and soothing way when you utilize any of them.

· Talk to yourself in a soothing way, which means with loving-kindness, compassion and understanding

o I’m sorry you’re going through this.

o I know this is a difficult time for you.

o I’m here for you.

o It’s okay to feel this way, it makes sense to me

o I know you are doing the best you can

o I believe in you

· Touch that is soothing could come from the sensation of touch on the skin (tactile experience)

o Getting a massage

o Relaxing and soaking up the warmth of the sun

o Going for a swim

o Soaking in a Jacuzzi

o Brushing or stroking an animal

· Taste that is soothing could be linked to the associations with that taste

o Eating a food that you associate with soothing such as soup or mashed potatoes or something like that

o Sipping on a cup of tea or coffee

o Sipping on water and being mindful of it relaxing your throat

o Choose a taste with a positive meaning for you and have some of that

o Choose a food with a texture that you need to experience

· Smell that is soothing and might cause you to take in a deeper and more relaxing breath

o Breathing in the crispness of the morning air

o The scent of lavender or vanilla as an essential oil on your wrist

o Standing in a flower shop and breathing in the various scents of flowers

o The fresh smell of your car after it’s been washed and vacuumed

o The smell of incense or a scented candle

· Sight that is soothing so long as the meanings you are making are positive

o Looking at photos of yourself in places you’ve felt relaxed

o Watching the clouds

o Watching the geese flying in formation

o Looking at the dew on your outdoor surroundings

o Watching the trees swaying in the wind

· Sound that is soothing

o Listening to the sound of raindrops on the roof or skylight

o Listening to relaxing music

o Listening to the sound of running water

o Sit and focus on the sound of a friend’s voice as they talk to you

o Listen to an audio book as you cuddle up in bed or on the sofa

Today’s episode is about taking a look at why so many adults with ADHD or executive function deficits don’t have well-developed self-soothing skills and what you can do to develop them, if that’s you. How much time do we have? Not much. So let’s get to it.

Today’s 3 important points are:

1. When and how does self-soothing develop?

2. Why it takes self-awareness and practice to actually develop the ability to self-soothe.

3. How being able to self-soothe can raise your self-confidence and self-efficacy

Now back to being an adult with ADHD or executive function deficits in today’s world. There can be so many reasons why your ADHD or Executive Function Deficits weren’t officially acknowledged until later in life and since you can’t go back in time, you have to move forward with what you know now, and learn whatever it’s going to take to get your life working optimally for you.

But first, I want to remind you of the gift I offered in episode 050; The Magical Power of WINS. Be sure you claim your gift because I feel it will help you. The offer expires on Thursday, 10/19/17, when my next Ask Dr B episode is released. The link is in the episode description.

Transitioning to our first story and action steps about how and when self-soothing develops.

· Melanie was in her 20s and had a sensitive nervous system since she was a baby. As a young adult, she had a lot of distress while she was waiting for anything to happen. This could be waiting in a line to purchase her groceries, or waiting to speak in a conversation or waiting to make a left turn while driving her car.

· Melanie was at a loss to know what to do for her when she felt distress while waiting. She had no idea how to comfort herself and make those horrible feelings go away. This actually terrified Melanie and made her not want to feel any feelings because this feeling of distress could happen at any time along with other feelings and she didn’t like the feeling of being out of control.

· Her mother, Lili, wanted to do everything right with her first child, which was Melanie, and she wanted to make sure that Melanie was always comfortable and never hungry for very long before food was on the way.

· Mind you, Lili’s heart was in the right place but her behaviors were not going to help her daughter; in fact, they were going to cause her a lot of problems later on in her life, which is exactly what had happened.

· Because Lili made sure that Melanie was always comfortable and never in distress, Melanie never learned how to handle her feelings or situations in which she experienced distress. She was completely at a loss for what to do because she never had to do anything to avoid or eliminate distress; her mother did all of that until she left home at 19. · And when Melanie was feeling the distress of hunger, she was very confused by her feelings because she had never experienced distress in connection with being hungry; again, Lili made sure that Melanie never experienced that feeling.

· So, while Lili’s heart was in the right place, and she was doing her best to care for her daughter’s needs, she was actually helping to create an adult who would grow up to be a dysregulated adult without coping skills or strategies because her daughter never needed them so long as Lili was taking care of her needs.

Background Facts:

· Babies have very little self-control. They naturally act on their thoughts and feelings without the ability to stop them. It is with the sensitive guidance from parents or other caregivers that babies begin to learn to manage their feelings and actions.

· Talking your infant through a distressing experience, such as a diaper change when they are sobbing or screaming, by saying, “Almost done here. I know you don’t like this, and we have to get you dry again so you’ll be more comfortable.” Then the child is picked up and held until he or she stops crying. This is the beginning of learning that distress can be talked about and comforted with others. Over time, this will need to transfer to self-talk and self-soothing but starts with other-talk and other soothing.

· By remaining calm when your baby is not, helps the baby to begin to regulate itself by tapping into the calmness of their caregiver.

· When the infant gets a little older, they need to learn to recognize their feelings and do so by the caregiver helping them with names of feelings and how to understand what those feelings mean. They are also guided to learn what their options are for being with their feelings or expressing a response to their feelings.

· Also, learning to wait helps children learn self-control and what their options are for addressing the distress they might be feeling while having to wait. They might learn to distract themselves from the distress (in healthy ways) with a toy or by focusing on something else until the wait time is up.

If you relate to Melanie’s story, your action steps are:

· Focus on reviewing how you grew up and what you were allowed to experience or learn and what you weren’t. Make note of what self-soothing you were taught and how you were taught, if you were.

· Follow Through on beginning to teach yourself how to self-soothe by remembering that you weren’t given the opportunity to learn this skill when you were a child and you have to learn it now so you can feel comforted from your own self-care.

· Self-Management of your feelings of distress or fear or panic or whatever is coming up by having thought about what you can do in advance to help yourself. It might be that you will rely on a good friend, therapist or coach in the beginning, where they are saying things to you that your caregivers didn’t say that would have started you off learning what needs to be said to comfort you. Or, if you did hear comforting things from your caregivers but were never given the opportunity to take control of self-soothing, you will know what was said to you and comforted you as a child, that you need to say to yourself as an adult and learn if it comforts you now.

Transitioning to our second story and action steps about why it takes self-awareness and practice to actually develop the ability to self-soothe.

· Frank was in his 40s and his inattentiveness, due to his ADHD, was pretty severe. It was very hard for him to stay focused for any length of time, and medication just wasn’t an option for him; even a non-stimulant medication.

· He had to rely on learning what he could to manage his inattentiveness and found that when he could get himself to exercise consistently, he did better. However, being consistent with anything was difficult for Frank.

· It was suggested to Frank that he look into the different forms of meditation as a tool to manage his inattentiveness. He found a program at a local university that was for adults that were in their 40s, just like him, and he actually felt more comfortable being in that class than he did anywhere else in his life.

· Over the 8-weeks of the program, Frank was taught this form of meditation and because he had begun to make friends with some of the others in the class, he found it easier to attend, practice outside of class with his new friends, and build his skills.

· As Frank learned to slow his mind down in his meditation practice, he began to become more aware of all the stress that he was carrying in his neck and upper back. He had never noticed that before. He also began to notice that when he practiced the breathing exercises he was given in the class, he could actually notice his neck and shoulder muscles softening a bit. He was encouraged by this awareness and began to practice his meditation more often; even without his friends.

· Frank was slowing learning how to soothe away the tension in his upper body. This led to him learning how to soothe away other feelings in his body or just feelings he experienced that were distressing to him by using his breath to break them up.

Background Facts:

· Consistency is a skill that needs to be developed but won’t be where there isn’t a good enough reason to be consistent; in other words, what’s in it for you.

· This is where the power of WINS can be quite valuable. When you have little wins like Frank was experiencing, such as noticing less tension in his neck and shoulders, you start to equate meditation with that relaxation; kind of a cause and effect understanding.

· By understanding that breathing into areas of tension in his body would cause them to relax, with practice of course, Frank had begun to count on a tool to help him feel more comfortable in his body, and to give himself that comfort more and more often because it felt good to have relaxed neck and shoulder muscles.

If you relate to Frank’s story, your action steps are:

· Focus on identifying just how self-aware you are. Give yourself little assignment to see just how self-aware you are. These could be to notice something about yourself, such as your posture and when you are upright and when you are stooped over. Have a friend take photos to confirm your awareness or lack of it.

· Follow Through on correcting those awarenesses that are distorted and get them more accurate so you can create an accurate feedback loop for many things in your life. Make sure to be consistent with your feedback to yourself so you can build these skills more quickly.

· Self-Management of your feelings when you learn that your awareness is distorted or incorrect. Be sure to be kind to yourself and speak in that self-soothing way so you can benefit and grow rather than feel shame or guilt.

Transitioning to our third story and action steps about how being able to self-soothe can raise your self-confidence and self-efficacy

· Liam was never a very confident kid. He was scrawny and awkward, both physically and socially. He regularly had meltdowns when things didn’t go his way on the school playground. And he wasn’t much better at home. He didn’t like surprises; he just wanted things to go his way.

· Liam’s behaviors led many kids to think of him as a brat or not someone that they really wanted to hang out with. This made Liam feel even worse about himself because he really did want to have friends and be a friend to others.

· The biggest problem that Liam had was he did not believe that he had any control whatsoever over his behaviors or feelings. He felt that no one liked him and he didn’t know how to make friends or get the kids to like him. His way of connecting with them was to abruptly blurt out something just to be part of a conversation or have a meltdown when he didn’t get what he needed which was his way of expressing how strongly he felt about something. None of this was conscious or thought out; it was just what happened for Liam.

· He so admired two of the boys he wanted to be friends with because they were “so cool” in Liam’s opinion. He finally got up the courage to talk to his parents about these boys and said that he wanted to be like them and wanted to be friends with them but didn’t know how. This was the first time that Liam was reaching out to his parents and they were thrilled. All the times in the past when they had reached out to Liam, he pushed them away and they had decided to give him the space he seemed to need in order to come to them. And, it worked.

· Liam and his parents talked for a long time about what specifically were the problems that Liam was having and why it was so hard for him to get along socially. His parents were deeply touched by how sensitive their son was and wanted to help him more than anything in the world.

· They found someone for Liam to work with who really understood their son and how to help him. He started to learn little things that he could think about during the day that were different than what he thought about currently. He also learned a couple of methods for stopping his outbursts before they got to the point of being like a runaway train.

· As Liam started to see that he could actually have some control over his thoughts, feelings and actions, he started to believe that he could actually become someone like the boys he admired. He also started to become a little more confident that he could become a more likeable kid. His confident was coming from feeling more competent in having learned new ways of manage his life and the meanings he gave to things.

Background Facts:

· Self-Soothing skills are gradually learned starting in infancy. However, when you don’t learn them, you develop other ways of being with your feelings; many of which aren’t positive or productive but they are all you’ve got.

· Confidence can only come when there is competence, and when you are not competent at soothing yourself you can’t be confident that you can. This also impacts your thoughts about being confident to do other things because again, you need to be competent and if you don’t feel that you are competent in other areas of your life, then your confidence will suffer.

· Self-Efficacy is you believing that you have the ability to do something; to complete it with a good outcome. This belief comes from knowing that you are competent in whatever the task is, which leads to your confidence in your abilities and leads to the belief that you will succeed. Without all of these ingredients, you only have a partial recipe for success.

If you relate to Liam’s story, your action steps are:

· Focus on what you are competent in; be sure to find at least one thing. And if you don’t feel that you are competent in anything yet, then you need to start there with gaining competence in something in your life.

· Follow Through on becoming more and more competent in the original task as well as becoming competent in other important things in your life. This increased competence in many areas of your life, with many different tasks, will contribute to you beginning to feel confident in your abilities to do things well, and to completion. Your competence led to your confidence and ultimately to your self-efficacy; your belief in your abilities to successfully achieve what you go after in your life. The belief that it can indeed happen for you.

· Self-Management of the many emotions, thoughts and feelings that is certain to arise as you venture forth on this journey. This is where your self-soothing skills and ability to self-soothe will become so very important.

Remember that no matter which story you identify with, you need to cultivate a “practicing mindset” and come to look forward to practicing every day because you would have been practicing these skills every day as a child growing up. This is not doing something one time and you’ve learned it. To truly learn something, and actually master it, takes practice, understanding and time. Otherwise, it’s just information, not something you’ve actually learned. And remember to continually ask yourself “how can I” when you hit a snag. Don’t let the “I can’t” creep into your mind.

You require “explicit or clear instructions” in order to access the exact thoughts, feelings or behaviors you need for your situations. You have to choose, experience, review, choose, experience, review and so on, until you finally find the exact thoughts, feelings or behaviors that work best for you for what you want to achieve. And mistakes are absolutely necessary and don’t represent failure but rather the opportunity to learn and grow and make better choices each time as you refine your skills.

If you don’t have a place you go for support and knowledge about how to transform your life into what you’ve always wanted, I recommend you get your name on the Waitlist for ADDventures in Achievement so I can reach out to you and set up a time to chat about your goals and challenges and whether or not this program is right for you now. The link is in the episode resources.

If this all sounds like a lot of work, it is. However, it doesn’t have to be unpleasant work. In fact, it can be fun and playful if you approach it that way and give it those types of meanings. I’ve been playing with these skills and strategies for years now because I had to learn them, just like you do. I knew that I would be more inclined to stick with learning them if I could make this a fun experience for myself; which I did. I’ve continued to be a student of my own life as I hope you will be of yours, and stick with it until you’ve achieved mastery and the happier and more productive life you want.

And as always, you are NOT what you do or don’t do; you are more than that. WE are NOT defective or less than as people – as human beings; we’re just wired differently and the difference doesn’t have to be a limitation once you know what you need for your own success. Even if you’ve never been able to soothe yourself before and always needed to go to others for soothing and comfort, that doesn’t take away from the fact that you’re still not broken or defective. It just means you have things that you can learn, if you choose to, just like I did.

It wouldn’t be a complete episode if I didn’t ask you about your WINS and encourage you to acknowledge them and celebrate them, so that’s what we’ll do now. Please check out my WINS gift to you so you can gain even more traction with your WINS.

So what’s it going to be for you today? If you had a pleasant conversation with someone today, that’s a WIN. If you got outside today and went for a walk or did something physically active, that’s a WIN. If you have your vision, that’s a WIN. If you have learned something new this week, that’s a WIN. If you know something about yourself that you are really proud of, that’s a WIN. If you like yourself, that’s certainly a WIN; and if you treat yourself with love and respect, that’s an even greater WIN. You get the picture; there’s a lot to be grateful for every day and to me these are WINS. So whatever you choose to reflect on right now is up to you; and I’d love it if you’d take a moment right now and think about some of the things that you’re grateful for that are WINS for you. That’s right. I know it doesn’t take away all the challenges you also have in your life right now; I get that, I do. However, with a shift in your focus and attitude so many more good things can happen. Whatever really challenging circumstances exist in your life right now doesn’t take away from the fact that you have things to be grateful for and WINS to celebrate. You are a precious child of the universe; and are called a “human being” not a “human doing” for good reason. You don’t have to earn your value; you were born with it. You’re value comes from “who” you are; not what you do. Got it? I hope so.

And if you’re going to be in the Atlanta GA area next month, you can be part of history in the making. The International Conference on ADHD is being co-hosted by ADDA and CHADD. I talked about this at length in episode 050, so take a listen. What’s important to know is November 9-12th in Atlanta GA; and link for tickets in the episode description. If you’re looking to attend an ADHD conference this year, take a look. I’m not speaking or attending this year, however, I’ve attended many times in past years and it’s been a wonderful experience.

· Here’s the link to get your tickets:

· Here’s the email address if you have questions or need help with registration: [email protected]

· Here’s the link to learn more about ADDA:

· Here’s the link to learn more about CHADD:

Here are a couple of additional WINS you can add to your list:

· Join me in the community group on Facebook, The Harness Your ADHD Power Community. Reach out and friend me on Facebook and then ask to join the group. I look forward to getting to know you there and helping you in whatever ways I can.

· Email me and let me know your thoughts about me re-branding the name of my show to something that reflects more of the content I’m actually delivering. The new name I’m considering is “Beyond Your ADHD with Dr B.” Here’s my email to let me know your thoughts. [email protected] Thanks in advance!!

So, check out the links and learn more about this first time in history conference opportunity, in case it’s something that calls to you, as well as check out the link to claim your free WINS course as well as the link leading to your opportunity to finding out if joining the ADDventures in Achievement program right now is for you. I don’t want you to miss out on anything I’m sharing with you today!!

And, if you don’t want to have to remember to look for new episodes, just subscribe and the newest episode will be in your feed by 1 am Pacific Time on Mondays and Thursdays.

A Favorite Quote:

Brene Brown said, “Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.” So, the question I have for you at this point of our journey together is, “How do you currently talk to yourself? And if it isn’t like you would to some you love, are you willing to shift how you talk to yourself to a more loving expression, even if you don’t believe you deserve it, for whatever reason?” If you are withholding self-soothing from yourself because you feel you don’t deserve it, you are listening to a story that just isn’t true; so change that station!!

That’s about it for today’s episode about the executive function skill of self-soothing when you are in a dysregulated state and what you can do to help yourself shift to a more regulated state. It means a lot to me to know that your life is getting a little bit better every time we get together. Listening to every podcast episode is a small action step, and one way your life can get “a little bit better” with each and every small action step that you take. Remember, for things to change for the better for you, YOU have to change – which means you need to do your best to take small action steps that will lead you in the direction of your goals EVERY DAY. And based on a new understanding of what that actually means, if you’ve listened to Episode 050, it could be you simply “contemplating” which small action steps you might take in the future.

And if you’re further along in the stages of change, it might also mean checking out the episode links so you can benefit from all of the resources I continue to create for you in addition to this podcast show. And remember, there’s a PDF transcript of this episode in the resources, and I’d love to see your name on the Waitlist for the ADDventures in Achievement program, so I can reach out to you right away, learn about your challenges and goals and see if this program is a good fit for you to take advantage of right away while the cost is still as low as it will ever be.

If you like what I'm doing here on the show, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts and share this with your community with the social media links from wherever you’re listening. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and greatly appreciated. The greater the number of reviews, the higher the ranking, and the easier it will be for other people to find this show; people who also need this information, and it helps me in my mission to make sure that all adults with focus, follow through, self-management or executive function challenges have the information and skills to help them live a happier, more productive, and wildly successful life. That’s the driving force behind this show and the creation and expanded content of the ADDventures in Achievement program. If you shared this show with just one person, and every listener did that, so many more people could benefit. Are you willing to share this show with just one other person today? I would be grateful if you did.

Part of what I love about the growing community of ADDventures in Achievement is the support that members are receiving from one another. Years ago I conceived of something I called “The ADD Squad.” The idea for The ADD Squad was an outgrowth of my growing up years watching the TV show, Little House on the Prairie, where it didn’t seem to matter whose barn burned down, the town rallied and raised a new barn so that family could be okay. I’ve always felt that the world might be a much better place if we viewed each other that way. In other words, seeing the needs of others and reaching out as a community to help one another because we can, rather than just thinking of our own needs. In the case of my online program, the reaching out has been the sharing of knowledge, support and time to help one another and it’s amazing to be a part of. We are not alone in this life of ours! We are all inter-connected in such unique and mysterious ways.

Thanks for listening… Until the next time… Bye for now…


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