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.
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?