This simple self-care technique can help reboot your brain
If this sounds like you, I want to share something that can help refresh your mind and spirit in the midst of your often chaotic life: mindful self-compassion through a strategy I call SNAP.
SNAP stands for:
Name the Emotion
Back in 1979, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn coined the acronym STOP as a simple way for people to grasp the concept of mindfulness. STOP stands for stop, take a breath, observe, and proceed. It’s been a wonderful tool that has helped countless people. However, we have learned a lot more about neuroscience and our ability to calm our minds and emotions over the past 40 years. Take soothing (or supportive) touch as an example.
Today, we know that if you put your hands on your body with intention and attention, this releases oxytocin and endorphins, providing an effective way to pause, switch into a mindful state, and calm your nervous system.
Naming the emotion we feel is also a key part of SNAP. When we name what we are feeling, we put some distance between our emotions and ourselves. We begin to recognize that feelings come and go, but don’t define us. This is not a matter of avoiding difficult feelings but letting them flow through us.
Here’s how SNAP works:
S: Soothing Touch
When you feel stress, place your hands where you find it soothing, which might be your chest, belly, face or arms. Try different locations and see what feels most soothing. This touch releases oxytocin and endorphins to help calm your nervous system.
Then when you are experiencing stress, take a moment to see if the stress is causing a tightening in your body? Move your hands and rest them over the area that feels contracted. It might be your chest or your belly. If you feel stress in muscles of your face, try cradling your face in your hands. Some people feel a pain in the back of their head or their temples when stressed. Place your good hands on wherever feels tight and imagine a soothing warm compress softening the area.
N: Name the Emotion
What are you feeling in the moment? Is it worry? Sadness? Anger? Frustration? Naming what you feel helps calm your body’s stress response. It also gives you time to locate it in your body, dovetailing with a soothing touch so that you move your hands to that location. Naming the emotion also widens the perspective to know that you are not your emotions.
Ask yourself, “What do I need right now?” Then do what you can reasonably do in the moment. For example:
- While driving: Try controlling your breathing, making your exhale longer than your inhale to lower your blood pressure and slow your heart rate. I often put one hand on the wheel, and the other hand on my heart.
- When toddler tantrums or teen drama erupt: Try dropping your attention to the soles of your feet as you control your breathing to slow the whole show down.
- When teen or adult family drama makes you want to flee: Stay focused on your body and your breathing. Breathe in compassion for yourself because it’s so difficult, and breathe out compassion for them because they are suffering (even if their behavior is distressing). This helps calm your nervous system and your emotions.
- At work: Depending on your work situation, you may have more options for relief in the moment if you have a door you can close (even if it’s in the bathroom stall! Give yourself a few minutes for quiet reflection. Ground yourself by touching a polished stone that you keep on your desk, or focus your attention on the soles of your feet. Take a break at the water cooler and exhale longer than you inhale for a few rounds of breathing. Look out the window, go for a walk, or call a friend. Do whatever you can to shift your attention and your mood.
Many people think of praise in relation to religion, but it is not necessary to be religious to cultivate a sense gratitude and all the benefits it brings for your health and happiness. When you give thanks, the gratitude you feel starts an upward spiral of positive emotions. This can help you to be more compassionate with yourself and others and can reinforce your desire to take care of yourself.
Julie Potiker is a mindfulness expert with extensive teacher training in a variety of tools and methods, including Mindful Self-Compassion through her Mindful Methods for Life program offerings and her book —Life Falls Apart, but You Don’t Have To: Mindful Methods for Staying Calm in the Midst of Chaos—Julie helps others bring more peace and wellness into their lives. For more information, visit MindfulMethodsForLife.com.