Finding comfort in a troubled time

When my daughter was little she loved her pacifiers. They went with her everywhere. At bedtime after stories she’d get three of them. One for her mouth and the other two in her little toddler hands rubbing them against her eyes. I saved three of them and keep them in a drawer in my kitchen. When I see them I think of how much comfort they gave her.

What the world needs now is comfort, some soothing. The key is to find ways to sooth yourself. Easy things that may seem childish, but the child inside needs those easy things right now.

It’s easy to let cigarettes or alcohol or food do this work. But afterwards, if you’re like me, you feel worse instead of better. The soothing doesn’t last.

So what does last? I encourage you to make a list of things that comfort you. Keep the list nearby so that when this pandemic really gets to you, they’re waiting.

Here are some things to think about while you’re making a comfort list.

Repeat after me
Whether it’s watching a bad sitcom, rolling a ball of yarn, or chewing gum, those repetitive actions can help you find a comfort zone. When I was about 9 years old, I used to roll my long hair up in pencils. (During school, which didn’t help me with math, but I digress.) I’d take a small strand, lick the hair and roll the strands into tight little curls. I have to admit, the front of my hair looked fabulous afterwards. Once I learned to braid my own hair, that ended up with a much more socially acceptable hairdo and activity, since it didn’t involve licking my hair.

Concentrate and focus
One purpose of comfort is to take you away and to help you escape. Nothing does that quite so effectively as being swallowed up by some other activity. So, playing scales (as someone in my neighborhood is doing right now) or solving a puzzle are good ways to focus. I play solitaire and any other computer card game I can get my hands on. Doing cross-stitch is another strategy I use. My brother-in-law knits. You could shoot baskets or kick a ball around. When I was little, my mom used to pour four or five bags of different beans in a bowl and ask me to separate them for her. I thought I was helping, and I was—helping me to stay out of her hair.

Revisit the familiar
Whether it’s looking back through old photographs or dumping your t-shirts out of a drawer and remembering where you got each of them, walking down memory lane can be very soothing. My husband and I made a list one night of all of the countries he’s visited (he travels for work) and why he was there. I’ve kept hundreds (and I do mean hundreds) of old letters and I love re-reading them. Open up stored boxes of your children’s toys and play with them. Dress some dolls or have car races.

Squeeze those creative juices
Coloring is one of the most soothing things I can do. Nothing smells quite like a crayon. Make something with emphasis on the making and not on the result. My daughter and I made a creation box when she was little, filling it with found objects and purchased ones that we could glue to a piece of paper to make collages or cards for her friends. So search through your house. You know you have hundred of old cords that don’t belong to anything you own anymore. Make a sculpture out of them by tying them together. Open up the junk drawer, look on the closet floor, gather up your own collection for a creation box.

Do what you love
I’m a writer and writing is one of the most satisfying and comforting things I can do. No one has to read what you write. Sometimes just getting the words down on the page makes all the difference. I have a doctor who irritated me earlier in the year and I wrote him a letter-that-I’ll-never-send telling him about how his actions had hurt me. I allowed myself to say anything I wanted and to not think of his feelings at all. And then I threw that sucker away. At the other end of the spectrum is doing something for someone else. Leave notes for your delivery folks thanking them for bringing mail and food to your door. Make cookies and leave them on your neighbor’s doorstep. Caring for others is caring for ourselves.

Listen and Watch
Take up meditation. Find a guided meditation that you really like and plan a time every day when you can bathe in that voice. Lots of my students enjoy ASMR, easily available on YouTube. It’s a kind of meditation that focuses on sounds, soooooft sounds. Walk around your yard and try to hear as many separate sounds as you can. Follow the path that a squirrel takes as it makes its way around your yard. Notice the birds, the ants (good lord, the ants!), the chipmunks.

You get the idea here. It’s about tapping into your own heart and soul, your preferences and not someone else’s. It’s about tuning out what causes anxiety, if only for an hour or a quarter of an hour, and filling that time with what soothes you.

Let me know what comforts and soothes you. Who knows? Maybe you’ll inspire someone else.

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