What Is Self Soothing?
"To comfort oneself when experiencing sadness or distress."
Self soothing can be particularly useful during times of emotional dysregulation; times where you feel out of control, angry, anxious, depressed or just completely overwhelmed.
Self soothing behaviours are usually developed in the early years of life, and can generally first observed during infancy. Parents may first notice such behaviours between 3 to 6 months of age, for example, when a child awakens and is able to settle themselves and fall back asleep. These behaviours will continue to evolve over the individuals lifespan, flowing through to adulthood.
However, that's not to say that everyone develops these skills by default. Unfortunately, those who suffer trauma early in life may be stunted in their development of self soothing skills. There are two schools of thought on why this is the case - whether it be that individuals who have experienced trauma are more emotionally sensitive, and as such more prone to emotional dysregulation, or that due to the trauma experienced they were unable to fully develop these skills in the first place.
Irrespective of the root cause, basic self soothing skills are very important for both physical and mental wellbeing. Dr Marsha Linehan, the originator of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, recognizes the benefits of self soothing as an important part of distress tolerance, by assisting with relaxing the body. By reducing the levels of emotional arousal, the body and mind is no longer in a state of constant emergency and as such can focus on transitioning to reasoned thought.
The easiest way to remember what self soothing is is to think of the five senses; touch, taste, sight, smell, and sound. Some activities you may like to try include:
- Wrap yourself in a warm and/or weighted blanket.
- Take a hot bath or shower.
- Run a worry stone between your fingers.
- Give yourself a foot massage.
- Mould play doh in your hands.
- Drink your favourite tea.
- Chew peppermint chewing gum.
- Have some chocolate.
- Eat something sour or spicy.
- Flip through photographs from happy memories.
- Watch your favourite movie or series on Netflix.
- Read a note from a loved one.
- Lose yourself watching an oil timer or lava lamp.
- Find an ASMR video on Youtube.
- Light a scented candle.
- Burn incense or essential oil.
- Use a room spray.
- Spritz your favourite perfume or cologne.
- Bake bread or cookies.
- Play your favourite music.
- Listen to a meditation track.
- Take a walk on the beach and listen to the waves.
- Find a white noise track.
- Listen to an uplifting podcast.
The list of activities is endless! It's worth nothing that different techniques will likely assist you through different scenarios, and that no two people experience self soothing in the same way. What works for you will very likely be very different to what works for someone else, and that's completely normal.
Try some of the activities on this list and notice which sense(s) helps you the most. Do relaxing sounds help you to unwind? Does completing puzzles and activities help distract and ground you? Once you've identified what works best for you, you can then start to branch out and add more tools to your tool kit.
It may take some time to discover what works best for you, but once you do, you'll be so glad you did!