Self-Soothing: Definition, Benefits, and Techniques

Written by Modern Recovery Editorial Team

Need Help For Yourself Or A Loved One?

We're here to help you on your journey.

CALL US (844) 949-3989

Our blog provides news, information, and motivation to help individuals start or continue on their recovery journey from their mental health condition or substance addiction.

CALL US (844) 949-3989

Feeling emotionally overwhelmed can seem like you’re lost in a stormy sea, unsure of how to find calm. This is where self-soothing techniques can become your life raft, helping you navigate these rough waters. This guide has practical, science-backed strategies to help you regain control, find balance, and face emotional waves with newfound resilience. 

What is self-soothing?

Self-soothing is how individuals regulate emotions by calming themselves during distress or anxiety. It’s a way to maintain a balanced emotional state, promoting overall mental well-being.

Key points about self-soothing:

  • Used by everyone: Individuals of all ages and backgrounds use self-soothing techniques, although they may vary significantly.
  • Varied techniques: Techniques can range from deep-breathing exercises to physical activities like running or engaging in artistic endeavors.
  • Promotes independence: It fosters emotional independence by providing tools to manage emotional distress.
  • Healthcare recognition: It is widely recognized and recommended, especially in therapies dealing with anxiety disorders and emotional regulation issues.

How does self-soothing work?

Understanding how self-soothing works is vital to effectively managing emotions. This process involves using specific mind-body techniques designed to regulate emotional responses. 

Let’s explore the particular steps involved in self-soothing to understand better how it leads to a state of calm.

  • Recognition: The first step involves acknowledging and accepting the emotional discomfort or distress.
  • Technique selection: Choose a self-soothing technique that aligns with your needs and resonates with you.
  • Engagement: Actively participate in the chosen self-soothing activity.
  • Reflection: Reflect on the effectiveness of the technique and the emotional changes it brings about.

However, these steps represent a simplified view of a complex process. To better understand how self-soothing works, let’s delve a bit deeper into each step:

Acknowledge your emotions

Self-soothing begins with an understanding and acceptance of the current emotional state. It’s about recognizing when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or upset rather than trying to suppress or deny these emotions.

Choosing the right technique

Identifying a technique that resonates with your emotional needs and personal preferences would help you maintain calm.

It could be deep breathing, physical exercise, calming music, or creative activity. The main goal is to find an approach that sparks calm and relaxation in you.

Engaging in the activity

With your chosen technique in hand, you immerse yourself in it. This could involve practicing mindful breathing for a few minutes, walking briskly, or diving into a creative project.

The objective isn’t just to do an activity but to concentrate on the action that helps regulate your emotional responses.

Reflecting on the process

Once you’ve completed the activity, the self-soothing process continues as you assess the impact of the action on your emotional state. 

Were you able to alleviate stress or anxiety? Did it usher in a sense of calm? Reflection becomes a cornerstone of self-soothing, guiding your future technique choices and adjustments.

Benefits of self-soothing

Self-soothing techniques are more than practical means for calming oneself during emotional distress. By employing self-soothing behaviors, one can improve their capacity to handle stress, promote personal growth, and foster a healthier mindset.

Enhanced emotional regulation

Self-soothing activities are instrumental in fostering improved emotional regulation. They can help individuals control their emotional responses, reducing the intensity and duration of negative emotions like fear, anxiety, or sadness. 

This improved regulation contributes significantly to mental health by reducing the psychological strain of emotional volatility.

Reduction in anxiety levels

Incorporating self-soothing behaviors into your daily routine can help in decreasing anxiety levels. Techniques like deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation provide a sense of calm and comfort. These techniques can help diminish the symptoms of anxiety, promoting a state of tranquility.

Boost in self-esteem and confidence

Through self-soothing, you demonstrate that you can manage your emotional states effectively. This can increase self-esteem and confidence, strengthening your belief in handling emotional challenges.

Improved sleep quality

Struggling with racing thoughts or worries at bedtime can disrupt sleep. Self-soothing techniques before sleep, like progressive muscle relaxation or calming music, can promote peace and enhance sleep quality. Improved sleep contributes to overall mental health, promoting clarity and emotional stability.

Encourages mindfulness and self-awareness

Self-soothing techniques often involve a mindful component, encouraging individuals to be present and aware of their emotions. This heightened self-awareness can foster personal growth and deeper self-understanding, contributing to improved mental health.

How to practice self-soothing

Self-soothing is a crucial skill set that aids in managing emotional distress and fostering mental resilience. Learning to effectively self-soothe can significantly enhance one’s ability to regulate emotions, manage stress, and improve overall mental health. 

Let’s explore some critical self-soothing techniques, exercises, and activities to incorporate into your daily life.

Self-soothing techniques

Techniques refer to the specific methods or strategies to soothe oneself during stress or emotional discomfort. Some of these techniques involve:

  • Mindful breathing: Paying attention to your breath, and noticing the rhythm of inhaling and exhaling, can help shift focus away from distressing thoughts and create a sense of calm.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: This involves systematically tensing and relaxing various muscle groups, promoting physical peace and mental tranquility.
  • Visualization: This technique involves using your imagination to picture a serene and peaceful place or situation. This mental imagery can help shift your focus away from distressing emotions, promoting relaxation and calmness.

Self-soothing exercises

Exercises refer to activities that require a certain level of effort or participation designed to induce a soothing response. Below are some self-soothing exercises you can try:

  • Deep breathing: Spend a few minutes taking slow, deep breaths, filling your lungs thoroughly, and gently releasing the breath. This can help lower heart rate and promote a feeling of calm.
  • Body scan: Close your eyes, starting from your toes and working your way up to your head, and visualize your body. Pay attention to the sensations in each part of your body. This mindfulness-based exercise can help ground you in the present moment.
  • Guided imagery: Use a guided imagery script or app to help transport your mind to a calm and serene place, aiding relaxation.

Self-soothing activities

These are pursuits or hobbies that induce a sense of calm and comfort. Consider integrating these self-soothing activities into your routine:

  • Listening to calming music: Music has a profound effect on our mood. Choose songs with a slow tempo and soothing melody.
  • Aromatherapy: Scents like lavender and chamomile are known for their calming properties. Light a scented candle or use an essential oil diffuser.
  • Walking in nature: Connecting with nature can significantly boost mood and decrease stress. Consider taking a quiet walk in a park or near water.

Remember, the effectiveness of self-soothing techniques, exercises, and activities varies from person to person. Exploring different options and finding what works best for you in your journey toward improved mental well-being is essential.

Examples of self-soothing

To help bring the concept of self-soothing to life, let’s explore a few hypothetical situations where self-soothing techniques, exercises, and activities can be applied effectively.

Stress at work 

Consider a scenario where John is experiencing high stress at his workplace due to an upcoming presentation. 

He uses a self-soothing technique – mindful breathing. In a quiet corner, John closes his eyes, focuses on his breath, and takes slow, deep breaths. 

This lets him momentarily step away from the stressor and regain composure, thus easing his anxiety.

Trouble sleeping 

Emily often has trouble falling asleep due to racing thoughts. She uses a self-soothing exercise – progressive muscle relaxation. This distracts her from distressing thoughts and helps her body relax.

Overwhelming social gathering 

Mike finds himself at a large social gathering, and the noise and crowd are starting to feel overwhelming.

He walks outside for a few minutes, uses a self-soothing activity by putting on his earphones, and listens to calming music. This helps him disconnect from the chaos momentarily and regain his equilibrium.

Unresolved argument 

Lisa is feeling agitated after an argument with her friend. She uses a self-soothing activity – aromatherapy. She lights a lavender-scented candle in her room.

Self-soothing techniques for mental health issues

Understanding self-soothing techniques and their benefits can provide a significant difference when dealing with various mental health issues. 

Self-soothing techniques for anxiety

Anxiety can be overwhelming, making you feel out of touch with reality. Self-soothing techniques can offer practical, in-the-moment strategies to help manage anxiety. 

Let’s look at some evidence-backed techniques to help you regain control:

  • Grounding techniques: Grounding methods, such as focusing on your breathing or surroundings, can pull you back into the present moment.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: By consciously tensing and then relaxing each muscle group, this method helps reduce the physical symptoms of anxiety.
  • Visualization: Imagining a peaceful place or situation can help distract your mind from anxieties and promote relaxation.

Self-Soothing techniques for depression

Depression can cast a shadow of disinterest and hopelessness over everything. Self-soothing techniques can help to lift this veil, providing tools to manage depressive feelings. Here are some methods to help navigate these challenges:

  • Engaging the senses: Activities like listening to calming music or spending time in nature can stimulate the senses and offer relief.
  • Physical activity: Regular exercise can help increase endorphin levels, improving mood.
  • Mindful breathing: Paying attention to your breath, noting its rhythm and depth, can bring a sense of calm and help refocus the mind.

Self-soothing techniques for stress relief

Stress can lead to a state of constant tension and exhaustion. Self-soothing techniques offer strategies to counteract this, promoting relaxation and well-being. Let’s explore some of these techniques:

  • Deep breathing: Deep, controlled breathing can help reduce the physical symptoms of stress, such as rapid heart rate or chest tightness.
  • Mindfulness: Focusing on the present moment can help you distance yourself from stressful thoughts and create peace.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation: Just as with anxiety, this technique can also relieve stress, reduce muscle tension and promote a sense of calm.

Self-soothing for different age groups

The concept of self-soothing transcends age barriers. It’s a powerful and versatile tool that can be customized and used effectively across all age groups. 

The underlying principle remains the same: managing one’s emotions positively and constructively. 

Self-soothing for kids

Introducing self-soothing techniques at a young age can set the stage for emotional resilience and stability. However, tailoring self-soothing strategies for kids requires a creative approach that combines simplicity, engagement, and fun. Let’s look at how this can be achieved:

  • Comforting objects: Incorporating familiar and loved objects such as stuffed toys, blankets, or a favorite item can help kids self-soothe during stressful situations.
  • Breathing exercises: Simple breathing exercises, tailored to their understanding, can equip them with a tool to calm down when upset or anxious.
  • Creative expression: Allowing kids to channel their emotions through creative outlets such as drawing or storytelling can double up as a self-soothing strategy.

Self-soothing for adolescents

Navigating through adolescence can be challenging, marked by changes and pressures. This period calls for self-soothing techniques that foster self-awareness and independence. Here’s how adolescents can use self-soothing techniques:

  • Journaling: Adolescents can be encouraged to write down their thoughts and feelings, a process that can serve as a potent self-soothing technique.
  • Mindfulness exercises: Simple mindfulness exercises can help them concentrate on the present, steering them away from stressors.
  • Physical activity: Engaging in physical activities like yoga or sports can serve as a self-soothing strategy, channeling their energy positively.

Self-soothing for the elderly

For the elderly, self-soothing techniques can contribute significantly towards maintaining mental peace and comfort. The methods should be gentle and easily practicable. Here are some strategies older adults can use for self-soothing:

  • Deep breathing: Deep breathing exercises can induce relaxation and reduce anxiety, making them especially beneficial for the elderly.
  • Mindful movement: Gentle exercises such as Tai Chi or light stretching can be effective self-soothing strategies.
  • Engaging in memories: Reflecting on fond memories or flipping through old photographs can be a comforting self-soothing technique.

Self-soothing in therapy

Self-soothing is a practical skill to implement in everyday life and is significant in various therapeutic approaches.

Let’s examine some of these therapeutic modalities where self-soothing is crucial.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and self-soothing

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, commonly known as CBT, is a well-established form of psychotherapy that deals with the interplay of thoughts, emotions, and behavior. 

Self-soothing is integral to CBT, primarily used to manage distressing emotions and cultivate positive coping mechanisms.

  • Process: Within the scope of CBT, self-soothing techniques are taught and practiced during sessions. They are typically recommended as part of the homework to manage anxiety, stress, or panic attacks in real-life scenarios.
  • Effectiveness: Empirical evidence supports the efficacy of self-soothing within CBT. It aids in developing emotional regulation skills and reduces the likelihood of resorting to maladaptive coping mechanisms.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and self-soothing

Dialectical behavior therapy, or DBT, is a cognitive-behavioral therapy that emphasizes developing skills like mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness. Self-soothing is crucial in DBT, especially under distress tolerance and emotion regulation.

  • Process: In DBT, self-soothing techniques are part of distress tolerance skills. Clients are trained to use these techniques during high emotional arousal or crises.
  • Effectiveness: Self-soothing in DBT has proven beneficial, particularly for individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder and other conditions marked by emotional dysregulation. It assists individuals in coping with distressing situations without worsening the situation or causing harm to themselves.

Mindfulness-Based Therapies and self-soothing

Mindfulness-based therapies, including mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) and mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), heavily employ self-soothing techniques. These therapies promote staying in the present moment non-judgmentally, aided by effective self-soothing.

  • Process: Mindfulness-based therapies use self-soothing techniques to cultivate an attitude of acceptance and patience toward one’s thoughts and feelings. Techniques like mindful breathing, body scans, and yoga are standard.
  • Effectiveness: Studies suggest that self-soothing as part of mindfulness-based therapies effectively reduces symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress. It aids individuals in creating a non-reactive mental space where distressing thoughts and emotions can be observed without overwhelming the individual.

By incorporating self-soothing techniques, these therapies offer an enhanced approach to managing distressing emotions and stressful situations. 

Remember, therapy is a personal journey, and the effectiveness of these techniques can vary from person to person. Always consult a mental health professional to understand the best therapeutic approach for your needs.

Common misconceptions about Self-soothing

Several things need to be clarified about the practice of self-soothing that can prevent individuals from integrating it into their everyday lives. Let’s address some of these misconceptions and debunk them.

Self-soothing is only for children

While it’s true that the term self-soothing is often associated with infant care, the practice also extends to adults. 

Adults, too, face stressful situations and emotional turmoil where self-soothing techniques can be invaluable. Techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or mindful walks are adult-oriented self-soothing practices.

Self-soothing is the same as avoidance

People often confuse self-soothing with avoidance or escaping from one’s problems. However, this is different. Self-soothing is about managing distress and cultivating a calm mind to deal with problems effectively, not ignoring them.

Self-soothing doesn’t have scientific backing

Contrary to this belief, numerous scientific studies support the efficacy of self-soothing. These techniques have been found effective in managing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress, among other mental health conditions.

Self-soothing is a form of self-indulgence

Self-soothing is not about indulging oneself in harmful or excessive behaviors, such as overeating or overspending, often termed ‘self-indulgence.’ Instead, it is about engaging in healthy practices that help calm and regulate one’s emotional state.

Overcoming challenges with self-soothing

Mastering self-soothing techniques can come with challenges. These include finding strategies that work for you or maintaining consistency in your practice. 

However, overcoming these challenges is part of the process, leading to more personal growth and resilience. So, let’s explore these hurdles together and discover some valuable strategies to overcome them.

Not knowing where to start

It can be overwhelming to navigate the vast array of self-soothing techniques, which might leave you unsure of where to begin. Here are some strategies to navigate this challenge:

  • Start small: Begin with more straightforward techniques like focused breathing or progressive muscle relaxation exercises. As you become more comfortable, you can explore more complex methods.
  • Experiment with different techniques: Remember, self-soothing is a personal process, and what works for one person might not work for another. It’s okay to try other methods and see which resonates with you.
  • Create a schedule: Incorporating these techniques into your daily routine can provide structure and make the process seem less daunting.

Difficulty in implementation

Implementing self-soothing techniques effectively, especially during high emotional distress, can be challenging. To overcome this challenge:

  • Practice regularly: The more you practice self-soothing techniques during calm moments, the more natural they’ll feel during times of stress.
  • Remember, it’s a process: You might not master these techniques overnight, and that’s okay. It’s a learning process, and each attempt is a step forward.
  • Seek professional guidance: If you find it challenging to implement these techniques effectively, consider seeking help from a mental health professional.

Fear of self-soothing

Some individuals may harbor fears or apprehensions about self-soothing, often stemming from misconceptions about its effectiveness or fears of dependency. To address this fear:

  • Educate yourself: Understanding the science behind self-soothing and its benefits can help alleviate this fear.
  • Maintain balance: Self-soothing is a tool to help manage emotional distress, not a solution to avoid problems. It’s essential to balance self-soothing with other coping mechanisms and problem-solving strategies.
  • Seek support: If your fear seems overwhelming, talking it through with a mental health professional can provide reassurance and guidance.

Facing these challenges head-on and overcoming them can lead to more effective use of self-soothing techniques, making them a powerful tool in your emotional well-being arsenal.

Final thoughts

Self-soothing is a valuable skill that can help you cope with anxiety and improve your mental health. It involves using your senses to comfort yourself healthily and soothingly.

Engaging in regular self-soothing behaviors is a proactive way to manage stress levels and maintain mental well-being. However, they are not a substitute for professional help if you have severe or chronic anxiety. Therapy can support self-soothing by helping you address the root causes of your anxiety and learn more effective coping skills.

We Accept Most Insurance Plans

Verify Your Coverage

We're Here to Help. Call Now

(844) 949-3989