Self-soothing is one of the most effective tools we have to get through the most painful and scary moments in life. While these techiques don’t solve any problems for us, they do help us manage the fear and anxiety that prevent us from taking action. Self-soothing is also crucial for maintaining mental health and staying recovered from addiction or an eating disorder.
We all struggle with anxiety from time to time. Even though it’s uncomfortable, it’s a natural and sometimes useful sensation. It helps us feel when something is wrong or dangerous long before we figure it out logically. If all is well with our natural anxiety response, the bad feeling shouldn’t stick around. Anxiety is supposed to subside soon after we remove ourselves from the sketchy situation or solve the problem.
For most people, anxiety and panic attacks are rare occurrences which are stressful, but not major life problems. Unfortunately though, for many of us that’s not the case. Nearly 1 our of every 5 Americans struggle with chronic, heightened anxiety that doesn’t go away even when the danger has passed.
The Self-Soothing Skills Toolbox: 4 Effective Tips and Techniques
If you’re having a hard time dealing with recurrent anxiety and overwhelming emotions, these # self-soothing tools can help. They are simple, affordable, healthy and non-addictive things we can do on our own. If you ever find yourself feeling out-of-control, start with taking a deep breath. After that, you can reach into your toolbox of self-soothing skills and techniques so you can move past the anxiety and get back to normal.
1. Mindful Breathing
Let’s start out with the simplest, and most readily available self-soothing technique. Mindful breathing should be our 1st response to any crisis. Think of it like the EMT showing up at an emergency scene. It can help us get through the immediate situation and, just like EMT, take us to a more secure place where we are actually able to address the problem.
There’s no one single way to breathe mindfully. Experiment and find a technique that feels comfortable and soothing for you. One popular technique goes like this:
- Start by closing your eyes and breathing normally.
- Imagine that all of your anxiety, fear, and stress is a material that’s floating in the air around you like a toxin.
- Now, imaging that cloud of anxiety in the air, start to breathe it in.
- Like what a plant does with carbon dioxide, your body will metabolize the toxin and you will blow out pure, clean air.
- Repeating this process, you will eventually “clean up” all the anxiety in the area and you will open your eyes to a calmer, non-toxic environment.
2. Walk through nature
For anxiety that follows us home and just won’t let up, this is the tool we need. Walking through nature is deeply relaxing and quickly alleviates an anxious mood. Research shows that a walk through nature immediately soothes us, and promotes mental health. Also, brain imaging confirms that nature walks reduce blood flow to the parts of our brain that process anxiety and negative thinking.
So if you’re feeling stuck in an anxious, tense mood, put your walking shoes on and get outside!
3. Use your Hands
Sometimes, we just need to DO something to release all of that anxious energy. Working on something with our hands is self-soothing because it is an excellent distraction from our racing thoughts. Repetitive, easy tasks can help distract us from the issue and stop the negative thought cycle.
Hand distractions are a great self-soothing tool for anyone feeling anxious. However, it’s important to note that those with excoriating disorder (skin-picking disorder), trichotillomania (hair-pulling disorder), or rep
Here are some things to try:
- Drawing: It doesn’t have to come out beautiful. You can even just scribble if you like!
- Coloring in a mandala or some other design/image.
- Playing with a fidget spinner
- Chopping veggies for dinner later
4. Create a Literal Tool Box of Soothing Objects
Find a nice box that you like, or just grab any old cardboard shoebox. Then just fill it with soothing objects! Keep it around the house, in your car, or at work. Some people make tiny to-go kits that fit in their bags too.
Here are a few examples of nice, soothing objects to include:
- A bottle of fragrant essential oil
- A bundle of comforting photos (polaroids are great for this)
- A small book
- Art supplies
- Fidget Toys or silly Putty
- A candle
Common Obstacles to Self-Soothing
A lot of adults feel like they can’t use self-soothing behaviors because they are afraid of feeling babyish, weird or silly. Another common obstacle is the common, although completely false, belief that one “doesn’t deserve” to take care of oneself.
Whatever the obstacle is, we should try our best to overcome it. After all, taking charge of our mental health and deliberately confronting our emotions is the mature thing to do.