Anger. Stress. Fear. Some days, emotions run so high it feels like you won’t get through it. Spoiler alert: you have before, and you will again. But still, on those days, it’s helpful to have some self-soothing tools in your back pocket to make everything feel a little more survivable.
What is self-soothing?
Okay first off, what exactly is self-soothing?
It’s a coping strategy used in Dialectal Behavioural Therapy (DBT) to relieve stress and cope with difficult emotions.
Often when things get too much, we either try to ignore the feelings or we use what might feel good in the moment, but actually hurts more in the long run (i.e. heavy drinking, drugs, etc.).
This is where self-soothing comes in. By practicing calming and comforting activities that use the five senses, you’re better able to cope with your emotions as well as calm both your mind and body.
No matter if you have a mental illness like depression or are just really stressed out, this strategy can be used by anybody, whenever and wherever you are.
Benefits of self-soothing
So why do it? What do you get out of it? There are lots of great things you can get out of self-soothing. Just some of the benefits are:
- Feeling less anxiety, stress and panic
- Feeling less physical pain and discomfort
- Feeling better and more relaxed
- Feeling less in a constant state of emergency
- Being better able to handle pain and distress
- Being better able to handle intense emotions
- Being better able to focus on the present moment
How do you self-soothe?
Before jumping into the activities you can try, here are a few tips to keep in mind as you start to practice self-soothing:
- Acknowledge: When that intense emotion comes up, embrace it. Even name it if you like (i.e. “okay this is anger”).
- Give yourself compassion: Sometimes we don’t think we deserve to take care of ourselves (i.e. “I have a midterm coming up, I don’t have time for this”). Remember, you’re a human being above everything else.
- Start with one: While there are five senses, try and focus on one at a time. If you’re really keen on doing an activity for each sense, start with one before slowly moving on to another.
- Trial and error: Some activities will be incredibly soothing to you and others won’t. Experiment and find what works for you.
Here are a few easy self-soothing activities to try using your five senses–sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.
Self-soothing techniques for each of your senses:
What makes you happy to look at? When you’re stressed and overwhelmed, sometimes you just need something fun or calming to look at. Some ideas for self-soothing using sight include:
- Look at old photo albums
- Look at old photos on your phone or social media
- Look at pictures of nature
- Draw, paint, or colour
- Rearrange your room/space
- Cut up photos you like from magazines or online and make a collage or vision board
- Go somewhere that relaxes you (beach, grass field, forest)
- Go for a walk or a hike
- Watch a sunset
- Do a puzzle
- Play a game
- Look at the clouds or stars
- Watch a funny movie or TV show
- Watch videos of cute animals
What sounds make you smile? Relaxing with sound is another great way to help you calm down. Some ideas for using sounds include:
- Listen to soothing music
- Listen to a podcast or audiobook
- Watch a funny show or comedy special
- Use a white noise machine
- Listen to a guided meditation
- Watch some ASMR videos
- Go outside and listen to peaceful noises (i.e. a park with chirping birds, a body of water)
- Sing or hum a tune
- Play an instrument
- Try some positive affirmations
- Record a video or voice memo talking out how you’re feeling
Touch can be a really powerful way to self-soothe. Some ideas using touch include:
- Have a warm shower or bath
- Go for a swim
- Sit in the sun
- Change into cozy clothes
- Get a massage
- Paint your nails
- Put on some lotion
- Use a heating pad or hot water bottle
- Use a cold compress or ice pack
- Press ice cubes on your skin
- Practice yoga
- Play with a pet
- Cuddle up with a weighted blanket or teddy bear
- Sit in a comfortable chair
- Knit or crochet
- Throw and catch a baseball, tennis ball, basketball, football
- Brush your hair
If using your sense of smell is soothing for you, some ideas you might want to try include:
- Wear scented perfume, cologne or fragrance
- Walk past places that smell good (bakery, restaurant, coffee shop, etc.)
- Go in nature and find places that smell good to you (i.e. forest, garden, beach)
- Cook or bake something that smells good to you
- Buy some fresh-cut flowers
- Use essential oils
- Light a scented candle
- Use a diffuser or air freshener
Is food soothing for you? Taste is another great way to self-soothe. Here are a few ideas for taste:
- Enjoy your favourite meal, savouring every bite
- Chew some gum or suck on hard candy
- Drink a warm drink like coffee, tea or hot chocolate
- Drink some cold water
- Eat a piece of fruit slowly, focusing on the tastes and textures
- Enjoy a snack that makes you happy (i.e. a piece of chocolate), savouring every bite
Final thoughts on self-soothing:
Sometimes, emotions are a lot and it might feel like you can’t handle them. But with these senses self-soothing ideas, you will be better prepared and more equipped to cope the next time those crazy intense emotions come your way.