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Self-Soothing When Stress Strikes

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When you’re stressed or upset, self-soothing can help. It’s a compassionate way of helping yourself through a hard time.

Self-soothing involves intentionally seeking out comforting experiences and mindfully paying attention to them, according to Ruth Baer, Ph.D, in her book The Practicing Happiness Workbook: How Mindfulness Can Free You From 4 Psychological Traps that Keep You Stressed.

Baer explains:

Self-soothing isn’t a form of avoidance or suppression; you’re not denying that you’re in a difficult situation and feeling upset, nor are you avoiding constructive behavior that might solve the problem. Self-soothing is a way to be self-compassionate when you have a stressful problem that can’t be solved right away. It helps you be aware of the present moment without ruminating, obsessing, or behaving rashly. It puts you in a better frame of mind for taking wise action when you can.

In the book Baer lists a variety of ways we can self-soothe (inspired by Marsha Linehan’s book Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder and Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion).

For instance, she suggests the following:

  • As you’re preparing a meal, listen to the sounds — the chopping, sizzling and bubbling.
  • As you’re eating, notice the temperature, texture and weight of your food along with the feel of a fork or glass.
  • When you’re outside, breathe in the air.
  • Listen to birds, people or passing cars.
  • Feel the sun against your skin.
  • When you’re listening to music, focus on the images that come to mind.
  • At home, wear comfortable clothes, and focus on the feel of the fabric.
  • Take a bath or shower, feeling the water against your skin, and breathing in your body wash or shampoo.

Here are other suggestions for soothing yourself when you feel upset:

  • Listen to classical music.
  • Listen to the birds chirping.
  • Light a candle that has your favorite scent.
  • Watch the rain fall.
  • Watch the sun set.
  • Take a few moments throughout the day to notice the colors of the sky.
  • Breathe in the aroma of your morning tea or coffee.
  • Look at art that soothes you.
  • Wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
  • Move your hands together to create warmth, put them to your heart, and say aloud these words (also from Kristin Neff’s book): “This is a moment of suffering. Suffering is part of life. May I be kind to myself in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.”
  • Give yourself a hug, or ask a loved one for a hug. Feel your arms — or theirs — surrounding you.

What helps you self-soothe?

Self-Soothing When Stress Strikes

Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Margarita is an associate editor at She writes about everything from taking compassionate care of yourself at any weight, shape, and size, to coping healthfully with difficult emotions. Her goal is to give readers practical, empowering tips to better their lives, and to remind you that whatever you're struggling with, you're never, ever alone.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2014). Self-Soothing When Stress Strikes. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 18, 2019, from


Last updated: 24 Apr 2014
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