How to Self-Soothe to Cope with Distress


Have you ever felt as though your emotions were quickly spiraling out of control? During distressing moments, you may be unsure of how to regulate yourself again. If you’re looking for a better way to deal with crises, the self-soothe skill could work for you!  

This skill is all about using our six senses to nurture ourselves and cope with distress. In addition, when we focus on our senses, we distract ourselves from our worries. Self-soothe teaches us to prioritize our self care during difficult situations; this is often something that we completely forget about when we’re upset or dysregulated. By practicing self care using the self-soothe skill, we learn to better tolerate overwhelming events. We can use vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and movement to lower our distress and feel more relaxed. Here are some ideas to self-soothe…

  • Sight -
    Go to a coffee shop and people watch. Step outside and take a walk in nature, without devices to distract you from observing the world around you. Admire a beautiful summer sunset from a nice vantage point. Go online and look at funny memes. Browse through old family pictures in albums, or old photos of you on your phone.

  • Hearing -
    Listen to a calming playlist or your favorite music (on repeat if you need to!). Pay attention to the sounds in nature, like birds chirping or the wind rustling tree leaves. Call up a friend or family member who you haven’t spoken to in a while. You can use a sound machine as well.

  • Smell -
    Put on your favorite lotion or rub calming oils on your wrists. Bake a fresh batch of cookies or brownies in the oven and smell the chocolate melting. Light your favorite candle on a cloudy day. Smell your cup of freshly brewed coffee or tea.

  • Taste -
    Drink your favorite non alcoholic beverage and savor the flavor. Enjoy your favorite flavor of ice cream on a warm day. Go to a local coffee shop and try a new drink from the menu. No matter what you’d like to taste, remember to eat mindfully and don’t overdo it!

  • Touch -
    Take a long bubble bath to relax. Get cozy under your favorite blanket. Ask for a hug from someone you care about. Take a long warm shower. Pet your cat or dog and cuddle with them (if they let you!). Another idea is to play with putty or kinetic sand.

  • Movement -
    Do yoga, either at home on your own or with a class of yogis. Practice stretches to loosen your muscles (there are plenty of videos online for stretching ideas). Put on your favorite playlist and dance like nobody’s watching. Work out at the gym or go for a run!

Instead of looking for comfort externally, it is important to practice and learn how to comfort yourself. Next time you’re facing a crisis and you don’t know what to do, use the self-soothe skill to care for yourself and calm down. Utilize your vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and movement to lower your distress level. Remember: Like any other DBT skill, self soothe takes practice. Experiment with different forms of self soothing to discover what’s most effective for you!