Summer Socks

May 29, 2024

When I was a kid, my mom would sit on the edge of my bed and rub my back until I fell asleep. I don’t know that she understood how desperately my nervous system needed that, it was just her mothering instinct. The best part was when she would keep her hand still on my back and let the warmth and weight of it settle my system. Much later in life, we discovered that we are both highly sensitive people (HSP). It shows how many things we instinctively do daily to soothe the system.

And yet, I still catch myself playing out a pattern that doesn’t align with my nature and goes against what I need. I stop myself or forget to do something that could help me feel more organized and calmer. It may be habitual masking like:  toughen up, don’t be so sensitive, it’s not that bad. Or, cultural conditioning like not wearing socks in the summer. “What’s wrong with you?” Rings in my head. Have you ever had a well-meaning person in your life say that to you as well?

As I become more aware of the messaging that plays in my head, I can dismantle it and make more empowered choices for my sensitive system. One of those messages is that socks are winter wear, but that’s not true for me.

The quality and length of my nightly sleep play a big factor in how well I can tolerate input, focus during the day and keep a good mood. I’m a better person when I get the sleep I need, so I make it a priority.  Over the years, I’ve developed routines and tools to help my nervous system settle for sleep. We all instinctively do.

Two great tools are warmth and weight. These two physical sensations signal the nervous system to move into “rest and digest” or parasympathetic dominance. Even the mental suggestion of these words relaxes the nervous system. Feel the difference between these two sentences in your body: “Warm soft sand.” And, “Cold cement floor.” Which surface would you rather nap on?

Soft Socks

There’s good research showing that a cooler body temperature is best for good sleep, but here’s where some sensitive tweaking can be helpful. I do like a cool core. But my toes feel like downed electric wires sometimes. Cold tingly toes can wake me up in the middle of the night. My whole body quiets down when I tuck them into a perfect pair of loose, fuzzy socks. Rather than having a bare foot poking out from under the covers, I like to have an extra layer of warmth on my feet – even in summer.

Warm Weight

I won a raffle at a wellness center recently and the prize included a flax seed and herb stuffed bag. It’s like a giant eye pillow. It’s my new BFF for sleep. I heat it up in the microwave and then put it on my forehead, my chest, my lower abdomen, my low back – anywhere I want to feel that soothing warmth and weight. It’s about the same size and weight as Sita, my cat, which is another very soothing thing to have resting on my body. It’s so simple but I can feel the difference in the depth of my sleep and how rested I feel when I wake up. I don’t need to have sore muscles to use this.

These tools are not only helpful to quiet down the nervous system for sleep. They can also be used anytime as part of “before, during and after” tools. Whenever you know you’re going to be in an intense situation, whether that’s driving in traffic, going to a loud party, or presenting at the office, you can keep your nervous system in check with warmth and weight. Imagine driving to work with this warm, heavy pillow on your lap. Or, have it on your lap during a meeting. Weighted blankets and even weighted clothes are easier to find these days because it’s now understood that it soothes the system. I’m sitting at a coffee shop typing this and I have a big brown fuzzy jacket (picture Fozzie Bear from the Muppet Show) across my lap.

I also love warmth and a little pressure on my neck. A snug-fitting fleece vest or a scarf is daily wear for me.

What are your soothing tools for sleep or for calming your system anytime during the day? Does it need a refresh or a remembering? Are you following someone else’s rules? Are unnoticed patterns running in your brain that need an update? Take notice and take the time you need to keep your nervous system soothed and get the sleep you deserve.

I like to care for myself like my mom did when I was a child. It sends a message to both my nervous system and my mind that says, “There, there sweet child” when I lovingly apply anything warm or heavy to my body. Embracing these comforting practices and allowing myself the same gentle care my mother gave me has transformed my relationship with sleep and stress, reminding me daily that it's okay to nurture my sensitive nature.

Highly sensitive person (HSP) is a personality trait that 20% of the world's population has. Do you? Take this quiz to find out.

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