Trauma, mental illness, and just simple hard times are a factor of life, and something you or someone you know may be faced with at some point.
If you were asked what you would do when faced with a traumatic experience or difficult situation, you would probably be able to come up with a few answers. Some of your answers may even align with therapeutic guidelines, while others may be things you just “know” aren’t good for you.
If you’re interested in learning how to self-soothe and just exactly what it is, keep reading for some of the best practice guidelines and self-soothing methods.
What is Self-Soothing?
Self-soothing is a general term for things that we do to help calm our emotional states. It’s more than just a mental “pep talk,” it isn’t always something we’re taught, and it’s not until we get older that we learn just how important it is.
Studies have shown that it has an effect on what is known as the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic system is the system of nerves that calms you down after the stress or danger has gone.
Some people stay stressed after the traumatic event has passed, and this is where self-soothing can be effective. Self-soothing is something that we learn to do from a very young age. There is evidence that babies and very young children engage in a number of self-soothing behaviors.
Obviously, our self-soothing behaviors and needs change over time as we grow up — and that’s why you are reading this article! Having good self-soothing strategies is the best way to avoid creating new problems, which may stem from choosing the wrong methods.
The Powerful Benefits of Self-Soothing
Self-soothing has a remarkable effect on the physiological condition of the body, and on the mind too.
It’s a win-win situation that channels negative feelings and emotions into positive-affirming ones.
Learning to self-soothe can help you in many different aspects of your life, including at work, with your children, your friends, and especially your romantic relationships.
As humans, we’re naturally emotional beings! However, having the knowledge of how to remain calm in stressful, high-emotion situations will only work to bring more balance to your life.
Bad and Dangerous Self-Soothing Techniques
Self-soothing is a term used to describe the act of calming oneself down in the face of stress or anxiety.
There are many different ways to self-soothe; some common methods include deep breathing, meditation, and journaling.
But the list of harmful self-soothing techniques is extensive.
Any method of calming oneself that is harmful either socially, physically, or mentally is considered a bad or dangerous technique.
Some common examples include:
- Overeating, undereating, binge eating
- Drugs and alcohol
10 Best Self-Soothing Techniques
Here are 10 tried and true self-soothing techniques.
If you visit a psychologist or counselor, these are the ones that they’re most likely to recommend to make you feel grounded and safe again.
- Breathe Deeply
- Taking slow, deep breaths in, up to the count of 6, holding, then exhaling slowly helps to recentre the parasympathetic nervous system that we mentioned above.
- It disables the fight-or-flight response that kicks in when we are stressed.
- Journaling is fantastic for decreasing stress because it gets your feelings and fears out of your head and onto paper.
- Your journaling does not need to be structured – this is your free time to write what you feel with no boundaries.
- You can type it on a keyboard, but somehow using pen and paper provides a better release.
- Cry it Out
- Crying is a good way to get rid of stress hormones, and it is actually good for you!
- Listen to Your Favorite Music (or Calming Music)
- There are some songs we use to relax or unwind, and others that we use to energize ourselves. Choose what is appropriate for your current mood.
- Grounding Techniques
- Grounding techniques are powerful in promoting calm by putting you in tune with your senses and sensory information around you.
- You may have a favorite perfume (smell), hot drink (taste), fluffy sweater (feel), song (sound), or photo (sight).
- By engaging with the senses, you bring a sense of wellbeing into the here-and-now.
- Positive Self-Talk
- Self-talk is your internal voice.
- When we are feeling happy, it is optimistic and when we are down, it can become critical and pessimistic.
- Positive self-talk is about changing the dialogue that runs through our minds into a kinder, more self-affirming one.
- Cognitive Restructuring
- Cognitive restructuring involves things called ‘cognitive distortions’, that induce stress and reaffirm fears you may have that may not be rational.
- If you can identify when you’re experiencing a cognitive distortion, pause and question the thought, you’re engaging in cognitive restructuring.
- Physical Contact
This can include:
- Getting a massage.
- Giving someone a hug.
- Cuddling a favorite soft toy.
- Squeezing a rubber ball.
This can include activities such as :
- Hitting a punching bag.
- Going for a walk or a run.
- Yoga is another great exercise that uses the body to calm the mind.
- Mindfulness Activities
- Mindfulness involves being present in the moment. It’s a great way to feel peace and calm even during stressful times.
- Most of the self-soothing techniques listed in this article have some sort of mindfulness component in them.
- For more detail on practicing mindfulness, here is a useful video: “What is Mindfulness?”
Good Self-Soothing Techniques for Adults
As adults, we might not always have the time or money to seek out therapists, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t help ourselves!
The following strategies are particularly effective and they achieve good results quickly.
- Cortisol Self-Massage
- The body produces cortisol when it is stressed, and this tends to build up as excess weight around the stomach because it’s hard to get rid of it.
- To do a cortisol massage, simply put your hands at about 2 cm either side of your belly button and then go down about another 2.5 cm and lightly massage.
- Make sure you’re using lotion or massage oil for this process.
- This has an amazing effect on your stress levels, providing a sense of relief more or less immediately and relaxes you.
- This involves tapping lightly on the body’s acupressure points.
- Tapping lowers the body’s stress hormone levels and reduces heart and breathing rates to a controllable level, which in turn reduces stress.
- For a video of where these acupressure points are, and how to do tapping, watch: “How to Tap with Jessica Ortner”.
- Butterfly Hug
- To do this, cross your hands at the wrists across the top of your chest or shoulders.
- Breathe in and out slowly and gently.
- Lightly tap yourself with your fingers at the same time.
- This “de-links” you from negative thoughts.
- Havening involves tuning into how you feel.
- Cross your arms across each other, holding yourself at the shoulders.
- Use your hands to stroke downwards from the shoulder down to the upper arms.
- This is very comforting and has a physiological effect that promotes well-being.
In Conclusion: Why Self-Soothing Works
Hopefully, you’ve now got a great idea of how you can self-soothe, and you can share this knowledge with others!
There are so many healthy options available that you won’t need to resort to things like alcohol or self-harm.
Self-soothing is not only great for short-term relief, but long-term you’ll find that you’re healthier, happier, and more balanced.
For best results, use a combination of the above techniques. If your stress is severe or chronic, make sure to seek medical advice first!
Thanks for reading!
And please check out some other recent articles about psychology and therapy below:
- A new study on mindfulness for pain is the first to demonstrate brain changes from a standardized mindfulness course.
- The benefits of chair yoga also apply to socially isolated older adults with dementia.
- Despite common concerns that the social fabric is fraying, cooperation among strangers has gradually increased in the U.S. since the 1950s.
- Teletherapy is an increasingly popular way for people to get help. Find out whether it might be the right option for you.
- Masochistic personality disorder is a mental condition in which the sufferer revels in pain, struggles to perceive positivity, and is incapable of joy.
- Being assertive can get you far in life, and learning more about assertiveness training is a big step in that direction. We show you how to get started.
- Many of the most common and proven therapy questions that therapists ask involve self-exploration and reflection.
- Wondering how to become a life coach? Find out why the field of life coaching is growing rapidly, and how you can get started.