Self-soothing is a practice that takes time and effort to build. Like forming any new habit, it can be tough to follow through with day in and day out. But unlike more time-consuming self-care techniques, like journaling or exercising, self-soothing is simple. It only takes a few seconds and works right away.
So, what is it? It’s basically what it sounds like: soothing yourself. Although it’s simple, it’s an incredibly reliable way to feel better. Why? You do it for yourself, rather than depending on other people to comfort you. It’s also an active, as opposed to passive, coping skill.
Acting versus Withdrawing
Think about all the unsuccessful ways you’ve tried to feel calm. Maybe you took a nap, scrolled through Instagram, or left a situation that made you nervous. These things all involve withdrawing. And even though they might work temporarily, when you wake up or the distractions end, you’ll be right back where you started.
To soothe yourself is to comfort yourself. Think about times you’ve comforted others. Giving hugs, truly listening and giving feedback, bringing over a meal or a bottle of wine—these are actions. Actively showing care and attention is what really makes people feel secure.
You’re just as worthy of active care and attention as your friends. More so, even, because as the saying goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” Above all, you need to take care of yourself. When you self-soothe, you take care of your mind, body, and spirit.
So, in summary, you should practice self-soothing because:
- It’s a reliable way to feel better. You can use it anytime, anywhere, without worrying whether someone will come through for you.
- It’s free. If you pick self-soothing activities that don’t cost anything—like you should—you don’t create the worry over cost.
- You’ll be less reactive. This one is huge. If you’re able to calm yourself down in stressful situations, you’re less likely to get angry, defensive, etc. with others. You’ll have better control over your emotions, and you’ll therefore be better able to react calmly.
- It’s good for you! Adrenaline and cortisol are stress hormones that are bad for your health. Of course, everyone gets stressed sometimes. But if you’re chronically stressed, you’re at an increased risk for health problems down the road.
- You can be more present with people you care about. When you mentally check out or leave the room, you lose connection with others. You might also miss out on the opportunity to process something difficult together.
Now that we know why self-soothing is important, and have some motivation to do it (yay!), let’s move on to how to actually practice it.
How do I Start Practicing Self-Soothing?
First, you need to figure out what makes you feel calm. It’s definitely not the same for everyone. Generally, you want to think about your five senses. Comfort can be easily achieved on your own if you seek it through your five senses.
No one can tell you exactly how to do it, because you’re a unique person. However, here are a few examples to help you start brainstorming:
- Ex. Look at calming pictures, focus on a familiar object (maybe one that brings comforting memories), look up at the clouds or stars
- Ex. Wear a favorite scent, breathe fresh air, use essential oils, light candles
- Ex. Chew gum, eat a healthy snack, drink something hot or cold (whichever you prefer), brush your teeth
- Ex. Wear a soft scarf or sweater, rub a smooth surface like a watch, take a hot shower or bath
- Listen to music, listen to birds chirping or trees rustling, white noise
It’s also important to think about specific qualities you find comforting. For instance, some people generally prefer hot over cold. Some prefer quiet, low-stimulus environments, and others find being around lots of people and noise reassuring.
Don’t box yourself in by thinking about what you should find relaxing.
What Shouldn’t I Do?
There are a few things you should avoid when planning a self-soothing routine. They’re the things that make you feel good for a short amount of time, but worse after. They may harm your relationships, your physical health, and your mental health.
Avoid things like:
- Junk food
- Alcohol and drugs
- Excessive distractions, ie social media or binging Netflix
The problem with these things is that while they might be okay in moderation, they have addictive potential. You don’t want to indulge in them when you need to soothe yourself, because you can easily come to depend on them for self-soothing. If you’re going to indulge—because who doesn’t love a glass of wine or the occasional Amazon spree?—do so when you’re already calm and relaxed.
Make Self-Soothing a Habit
Now, for how to actually follow through with practicing self-soothing. I’m a big believer in personal accountability, and that means you need to do some recording. If you journal (which I recommend!), set a section aside for you to write about what you did that day to comfort yourself. Or buy a new journal just for writing about how you took care of yourself each day.
While self-soothing is a coping skill mainly for the times you really need it, it doesn’t hurt to practice it on a regular, anticipatory basis. Maybe, like me, you can pretty much plan on being uncomfortable several times a day, even if it’s supposed to be a chill day. In all honesty, there’s never a time when self-soothing won’t be at least a little helpful. Use your planner to plan out a week of self-soothing activities. Then you can reflect at the end of the week how much they helped, and adjust your plans accordingly.
- Monday: Grab coffee on the way to work
- Tuesday: Take a 15-minute walk outside on my lunch break
- Wednesday: Bring a few pictures to put on my desk at work
- Thursday: Wear favorite perfume
- Friday: Listen to calming playlist during commute
That’s how you begin, and maintain, the practice of self-soothing. I hope you will find it just as helpful as I do! Let me know in the comments how you practice self-soothing, suggestions for others, or just how it’s working out for you.