What most folks get stuck on when looking for a self-soothing technique is trying to find something outside of themselves. Munching cookies, watching movies, guzzling booze are a few things that come to mind
Coach and Psychologist, Dr. LaCombe explains how we can use self-soothing techniques to intentional trigger ourselves into positive states.
By "attuning" to these slightly more positive states, we can literally help neuropathways connect in the brain.
When we focus on our body sensations, we're essentially doing just that.
While any momentary shift may be temporary, when the practice is repeated the brain begins the process of setting a new "normal".
Updated: March 20, 2022
Your best self-soothing technique is within you!
A resource is a person-place-thing that when sensed into, recalled or imagined feels good. It resonates positively in the nervous system. You can always recognize a good resource by the warm, positive feeling you get in your body.
When we access a resource, we are in effect engaging in a body-based process...we are "resourcing". We are triggering a positive experience by engaging the relaxation response.
I use this self-soothing technique with my clients all the time. I encourage them "to resource" in the moment.
You can appreciate that the world is filled with resources. Yet, tapping into them when you're feeling overwhelmed can be a challenge. (And, for some folks with chronic anxiety or depression, accessing resources is the main problem!)
Because I'm a body psychotherapist, I frequently suggest to my clients, "feel your seat". In doing so, I am asking them to use their body as a resource, grounding their energy through their butt.
As you might guess, self-soothing strategies vary from individual to individual. While I find sitting in my car soothing (my car is a stable resource for me), an acquaintance of mine is happiest on his sailboat.
"Resourcing" for this article
Resources can be either inside of us or around us. For example, Carole is really intelligent, has a way with words and she's a cracker-jack editior. Susan, on the other hand, has a passion for the Internet, marketing, and writing as she sees it. All of these qualities are internal resources.
On the other hand, external resources might be the places you've travelled to, fond memories, and loved ones.
The two of us working together on this article are accessing external resources. We are supports for each other. Resources in action!
BTW, one of the most natural ways human beings resource themselves is by talking to someone especially someone who we feel cares about us. How many times have you picked up the phone when you can't settle yourself over an troubling event?
If close friends are not available (there've been times when I didn't feel comfortable leaning on my friends) calling a therapist is often the best choice.
Poole Heller, Diane and Heller, Laurence S. (2001) Crash Course. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, pg. 63.
Can't stop swaying, even in a chair!
I sway side to side when I am sitting in a group. I have a bit of social anxiety disorder, but I'm not afraid of going to church or to a concert. Yet, when I am sitting in a chair in a public place, I have a tendency to sway side to side.
When I realize I'm doing it, I stop (to avoid being noticed), but once I start listening to the speaker again, I start swaying again. When one is supposed to be listening to a speaker, one's options for self soothing are limited. I wonder if there are medical causes which could be addresses.
Unconscious swayer (Georgia, USA)
Hello there "Unconscious Swayer" , I'm glad you asked this question. As a matter of fact, as a child I used to bounce against the couch and later as a teen and young adult, I needed to sway in the company of others. For years, I was embarrassed by it and tried controlling it especially, as you say, when out in public. I know now that I was self-soothing.
Just know "Unconscious Swayer" that this can be changed....and it doesn't require a medical intervention (although it helps if you have a therapist).
The need to rock and sway is a natural human instinct that arises from our womb and infancy. It no doubt is hard-wired in our genes. The rocking motion is a comfort much as being in the belly of our mothers as she walked through her day was soothing to us.
What's interesting about your question is that you "aren't afraid at church or at a concert". That's the biggest clue for me of what may be going on for you.
You see, we're more prone to being afraid when we're in high activation mode. This is a condition of the nervous system when it's amped up. Our level of activation is controlled by the reptilian-lizard brain - the part that protects us from danger.
You see, we're more prone to being afraid when we're in high activation mode. This is a condition of the nervous system when it's amped up. Our level of activation is controlled by the reptilian-lizard brain - the part that protects us from danger.
How this fear shows up depends on how aware someone is of their own actions and the specifics of their history that pulls for different circumstances being "activating".
Typically, the more people around and especially in unfamiliar settings, the more fear is triggered and the reptilian-lizard brain - sensitive as it is to potential danger - goes on alert. High activation at a general level is causing the social anxiety and the unconscious need to sway.
Lowering your activation level is the easiest strategy to arrest this tendency.
I also wondered if it was possible that when you're listening to a lecture or a speaker, you start to zone out or dissociate?
That was a big problem for me in my school years. That would account for why you tend to forget to control the urge to sway. High activation tends to make us far less aware of our body actions. Please read the information on that page to see if it's a fit for you.
So you might guess at this point, that the swaying is only the tip of the iceberg. It's true. You may also find though, that in rectifying this tendency (i.e. by lowering your activation) you may actually improve your life on many levels. That's my hope for you.
I wish you the best,
P.S. If you want a head start on lowering your activation, consider my Brain Coaching Program - I developed it just for this 🙂
Tips for using your imagination (Israel)
When I was a child I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, and I had a more active imagination back then, so I delt with my anxiety disorder through imagined resourcing.
I'm unable to do that anymore for some reason, and I want to be able to do it again because my anxiety is becoming unbearable. Got any tips? Thanks.
Children are wonderful eh. Dana you instinctively knew what to do as child. Cause using our imagination taps into the right brain. And it's right brain experiences that will calm you down.
There is no need for you to suffer any more Dana. Anxiety can be cured. It does however require consistent work - the best kind in my view is with a body-based therapist.
I wish all the best,
Suggestion: Listen to spiritual CD
Whenever I feel dysregulated and "off", I listen to a CD of one of my favorite Spiritual leaders/Spiritual Mentors, which shifts my focus from a soulish/temporal realm to the spiritual/eternal realm bringing me peace, encouragement, and hope in knowing how much Bigger God is than my feelings, circumstances, or weaknesses; how intentional He is towards my healing and wholeness, how much He delights in me and smiles when looks at me; I'm His favorite! (Everyone can say they're His favorite and it's true).
After listening, I'm in a much better place emotionally and spiritually!
Angela, Simi Valley, CA
Holding something against my tummy
I find holding objects up to my tummy soothing. It calms me down, I don't understand why I do it. And no one else Iv talked to has ever really done it or heard of anyone doing it to sooth my self.
Is it normal...? Why might I do this?
Oh, yes for sure it's normal Kayla. It's containing. It provides a boundary for an area of your body that's vulnerable. I often get my clients to position their hands over their tummy for that feeling of support and emotional containment.
Having a good cry
Really good resources, thank you! Can crying be considered as self-soothing?! I hear some would even describe it as cleansing yourself of negative or harmful emotions. ?! No?!
Mimi, Las Vegas, Nevada
Absolutely, crying can indeed be soothing Mimi. I agree totally. In fact, it's an opportunity most folks don't know how to make the most of.
If you accompany your tears with a feeling or image of being comforted, your healing can go double deep.
Definitely more on the subject...
A cozy bed makes me feel safe enough
My bed feels like the safest place to be during difficult times. Curling up under the covers calms me down and makes me feel safe and secure.
Sometimes, watching therapeutic massage videos especially head, neck, shoulder massage gives me a much needed release. Its also helpful when I can't sleep. ET
That sounds wonderful ET! I recommend getting under the covers quite often to my clients so I am glad to see you posted it. It's true isn't it...curling up under covers is one of the best feelings. Yum.
I'm reminded by your suggestion ET how often when I initially mention it to others, I get the response that folks feel guilty. Even though their body is giving a strong message to do so they undermine their own healing instincts.
So even if they do manage to get under covers, their experience is just not the same because they're in their thoughts berating themselves instead of enjoying the cozy, safe feeling.
And, it never occurred to me to watch massage videos - what a good idea. I'll have to try that.
Rocking chair will always calm me
I'm 15 and I absolutely love rocking myself when im upset or tired a more acceptable way for me to rock is a rocking chair.
But in the privacy of my room I air on the floor Indian style and rock. Makes me feel good no one knows I do it and im embarrassed. But I love it is it normal.
Absolutely it's normal Lecia. We rock babies to soothe them - we know instinctively that it calms them down. That we feel the urge to "rock" years later doesn't make any less valuable.
Unfortunately, in our modern age, we've become so distanced from our own body signals we get ashamed or even alarmed at what is actually natural and human. I think it's because our culture tends to place a higher status and value on left brain intellectual pursuits.
How to soothe 5 year old
My daughter (5years old) is often overcome with emotions. It can be very difficult to help her calm down. Any suggestions to help a little one self-soothe? (She is developmentally delayed and had a difficult first year of life but is doing well now.) Thanks for any help.
Hugs and a Soothing, Comforting Voice (PA, USA)
Hi Kathy, what a wonderful question. Your attention your daughter's emotional upsets is probably the most important thing you can do to ensure her later happiness and ability to manage emotions and stress as an adult.
I'm sure you already know this instinctively Kathy but sometimes given all the competing parenting messages out there it gets lost:
Picking her up and holding her, rocking her and using a soothing tone of voice are the best strategies for helping her calm down.
Overtime, this will help develop her capacity to do this on her own. You see, she'll internalize your voice. (The body hears first!)
Don't worry that she may need more comforting than another child her age. Owing to her early tough start, she requires a little more tender loving care.
Give her the comforting power of touch and soothing voice and over time she will require less. She will learn to develop her own capacity to self-soothe.
Now, I'm not saying to frantically rush over and soothe her at any small sign of emotional upset (that can get in her way for developing the capacity for self-soothing).
You see, crying per se is not the problem. Rather, not being consistently consoled when we do poses one of the greatest risks for the developing brain of infants and young children. A baby or child left to cry too often can lead to a hypersenstivity to stress.
In other words, extended periods of time when a child is not soothed can be harmful to the developing brain.
Kathy this may be old news to you but transitional objects like stuffed toys can also be used. During moments when things feel out of control for her "stuffies" can be a powerful backup. I suggest sitting with your daughter, grabbing her favourite "stuffy" and all three of you taking in the comfort.
That way, when you're not around, she has her "stuffy" to help her navigate these emotional storms. The memory of the three of you will be close by.
And if you've been reading elsewhere on this site, the capacity of your nervous system to self-soothe and regulate emotions goes a long way in helping your daughter learn how to do this for herself. You see, we can only help contain emotions in another individual to the degree that we can contain them within ourselves.
That means keeping your nervous system in tip top shape...yoga, nature walks, body psychotherapy etc. (Including my Brain Coaching Program...shameless)
And not to mention Kathy, the more you're in tune with yourself, the better able you'll be to catch your daughter's emotional states early and preempt meltdowns.
Because it's our own awareness to ourselves that lets us know what's going on for others. (Most Moms will know that when they're stressed, their children get stressed.)
There's one more important idea that I'd like share with you Kathy. Chances are your daughter will have a hard time adjusting to change. You may want to avoid situations where she gets overwhelmed.
Yet, we know that developmentally new experiences are necessary for growth.
So what to do?
The best way to handle this is to titrate any new experience for her. In other words, take baby steps in adjusting to the new situation.
So here's an example. Let's say, you're planning to go to a different park. This may or may not pose a problem for your daughter but if it does, I'd play with her in the new park first instead of sitting on the sidelines. Then when she seems settled in, take a few steps back adjusting as necessary.
Then apply this same strategy for any new activity or venture.
Hope this helps,
Shrinklady & Dr. Carole
Rocking myself to sleep
I curl up in a ball in bed, on my side and gently rock myself to sleep. Sometimes I am unaware that I am doing it. When I realize it then I know that something is just not right in my world and I try to figure out what is going on and talk to a therapist!!
Rocking Myself to Sleep (NY, USA)
Sinking slowly into a hot bath (UK)
I am with Sequoia on this one. As a wonderful Self Soothing Technique I imagine walking effortlessly through the countryside on a crisp to cold early winter's day, and just drinking it all in.
My other favourite resources with which to Self Soothe, are remembering just how blissful it is to be able to stretch out and sleep in a comfortable bed after a long overseas flight during which you have spent about 14 hours sitting up in a cramped space. That, and sinking slowly into a hot bath at the end of an exhausting day.
OK, not very original, I know, but oh so perfect!
Focus on a single resource/object
Regarding Resources: A resource that has often worked for me, that tends to put me into a more objective place of reflection, is the meditative technique of focusing on a single object in the environment, no matter what that may be, and trying to think only of that thing.
Other thoughts are allowed to come in and flow out, but I try to hold onto only those thoughts that come closest to what I understand that object to be (a brick on a building, for example). I try to continually return to an understanding of the object in the simplest form I can understand it in.
After doing this for a while, I usually find myself to be more in control of my emotions, not to say that that translates into other forms of success, but at least it tends to give me some emotional stability.
I struggle with issues with authority, which I was reading about in this site. Very helpful, to everyone who described their experiences, and to Shrinklady's responses. It seems difficult for me to differentiate between instances when I am overreacting to authority in a paranoid fashion, and when I am reacting to a situation where someone is trying to demean me, or others who I may try to stick up for.
I am certainly hypersensitive to authority, and reading about this has been helpful. The struggle, for me, is to understand when a reaction to authority is appropriate.
Hello George, thanks for your suggestion.
I know what you mean by not knowing the appropriate response to authority. I struggled with the same thing for years. I'd watch others thinking I could learn from them.
I've since made an important discovery and you may have come to the same conclusion. I can't depend on the opinions of others to learn this stuff. Advice is usually for only a single event. I need to have the answers readily within me.
Cause life's like that - it throws you curve balls!
Fortunately, as I come more into myself, more grounded within, the answers are a lot more clear to me. I'm still on this journey however I am so grateful for the route I've traveled and how far I've come.
I hope the same for you,
Got to find a better way...
I eat to soothe myself. Or try and avoid people and go to my bedroom or hotel room (I travel for work alot) and channel surf oh and eat.
Looking to find a better way...
Hi Cath, I hope you'll find some inspiration here.
Just so you know, travelling can be pretty hard on the nervous system especially if you move through different time zones. That means you may find the compensatory mood swings a bit hard to manage.
Don't worry too much about avoiding people at times. That's just what your nervous system needs to do as it regroups or recalibrates itself. The important thing is to make time for your nervous system so it can handle your schedule. Yoga, body-based mediation and body psychotherapy are probably the best ways I know how. A good hot bath works in a pinch too.
Using guided imagery
When I am really stressed, guided imagery is a great resource.
I couldn't agree more Diane. I use it all the time both professionally and personally
Chocolate works too!
I find that wrapping tightly in a blanket and rocking in my rocking chair soothes me when I'm feeling stressed or vulnerable.
Chocolate works too! (Chatham, Ontario, Canada)
Curl up into a ball
When I feel overwhelmed, I put myself back to a place that was safe to me when I was a child. I imagine that I am laying on the kitchen chairs, tucked underneath the kitchen table. I can practically feel the vinyl of the chair beneath my cheek, and the sawdust feel of the bottom of the particle board table on my fingertips.
I smell the after dinner smells of the food fading away and the dishwasher liquid emanating through the air. I hear my mom's footsteps walking into the kitchen and see her short white socks with the colored balls at the ankles. I feel safe.
Mom's there, and no one knows that I'm there. Remembering that safe place helps me to ground.
I also have a list of things that help me to feel better, like playing basketball, skateboarding, playing with my daughter, and reading, that I compiled with my therapist. When I feel stressed, sometimes I pull out this list and do something from it. Through doing this, I begin to feel who I am, I feel myself. When I get really off-track, I lay on my side, cover up with a special blanket, hug a special stuffed monkey, curl up in a ball, and suck my thumb. That always makes me feel comforted and safe.
Curling Up into a Ball (California, USA)
I started recently writing poetry not sure if I was going to enjoy it,
Now when I feel the end of my rope is dangling I reach for my website and write my heart out. At first I was not sure if I could submit a poem, and allow it to be rated. I leaped ahead and wrote a poem allowing feed back. I felt raw almost unclothed received some feed back great at first; then a few hurtful rude nasty comments. I almost stopped going to this site, few days later I wrote two more allowing feedback, accepting I began writing for me and I feel better, sense of achievement, needless to say I have now written 43 poems and I am still as happy as the first one I wrote.Thanks for your site and you are doing a real kind service I wish you inner peace
Searching for meaning
I find that reading inspirational books is a great self-soothing technique. I'm just about finished reading "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl and I wish everyone could read it. It has some very good insights that I think many people would find helpful whether they are in therapy or not.
The biggest surprise I encountered is that a lot of suffering is not the result of neuroses and can actually be helped fairly quickly.
Thank you Shrinklady for your efforts to make this world a better place and wishing everyone well!
Searching for Meaning (Vancouver, Canada)
The feel of crisp winter air
Trying to find ways to self sooth, which is how I came to this site. Am discovering many, many people find life difficult not just a minority but lots of people for different reasons. I haven't been able to self-sooth because I've had a profound sense of worthlessness that stems from my background.
However, I'm learning more about self-soothing and to self sooth takes walks and just enjoy the smell and feel of the crisp winter air and the sights of of the city...
The Feel of Crisp Winter Air (London, UK)
Give scrapbooking a try
We like to scrapbook, think about angels, look at pictures about horses and butterflies and angels, pray, listen to oldies station, walk on the beach, photography.
Listen to "After the rain" & "Messiah"
I hope its ok if we add more than one! I also use music to soothe myself. I have one CD called "After the Rain" by Michael Jones which contains piano instrumentals and the composer based the pieces on the sounds of water running downhill after a rain and forming creeks and rivers.
It literally sounds like water decided to play the piano. Its really calming and I find when I'm agitated, it can really take me down a level or two.
If I'm in the mood for vocals, it's Handel's Messiah.
Attachment Girl (Syracuse, NY, USA)
Yes, of course, that's great Attachment Girl. Thanks for posting.
Knitting & rebooting, then a nap
Shrinklady, right now I have been doing a lot of knitting. I like to do other creative things as well but knitting has been my go-to self-soother for about a year and a half now. Not only is it creatively expressive and challenging but the repetitiveness I find very calming.
My job has been great for me too since it keeps me distracted and gives me a great sense of competency and accomplishment. I just wish I could knit at work!
When I am really worked up I try to take a nap. When I was having panic attacks a few years ago, taking a nap was the only thing that really allowed my nervous system to "re-boot."
Knitting & Rebooting with a Nap (So Cal, USA)
Picturing myself at the beach
One of my favorites has always been picturing myself at the beach. There is something about the immensity of the ocean and how waves are each unique so that it is a new experience but they keep coming in which gives a sense of consistency.
A beach is the most peaceful place I know. I was in the Caribbean on a recent vacation and one day on the beach I literally sat partway in the water in a low slung beach chair and just let myself be. There was an incredible sensation of my senses opening up; it was a beautiful beach and a beautiful day, very peaceful. And because of recent work in therapy, I was able to achieve a sense of being present and stillness that I don't often have.
So that's one of the places I go when I need to bring things down. If it's really bad, I put my therapist in a chair next to me, just sitting with me so I know he's there but not talking. The thought of his presence is very comforting.
Picturing Myself at the Beach (Syracuse, NY, USA)
Long showers with candles
Some self soothing methods that I have used and use are the following: - Swimming.. floating in the water and using mindfulness strategies.. that is being in the moment of the sensations of the water on me, sun and whatever other things I feel
- Long showers with candles.. I sit on my showerchair and let the water fall on me and focus on the sensations I feel as the water calms my body down.
- i often pray in the shower as well as other places too but the shower is one of my favorite places to meditate about what's happening that's making me feel scattered and bringing my self back together
- sometimes i like to play a game online.. majhong, supergranny, bejweled, something simple but fun or soothing .... a bit of a distraction but a good one
- laying on my side and hugging my safe big teddy bear and feeling its soft fur against my skin...
-When im fed up with people, i try to step back and look at nature.. study flowers, insects, birds chirping, whatever creatures i can see, observe and watch... this often brings me great peace and awe for the universe as well as my place in it.. makes me feel much kinder towards self and others...
- I also enjoy doing art collage, painting, drawing, and writing poetry to help myself reorganize, process, or just zen out the static inside.
Sitting on my Shower Chair (USA)
Swimming with dolphins
Whenever I get wound up I like to remember my experience of swimming with dolphins. I vividly recall their inquisitive gray eyes, their friendly smile, and the taste of salt water in my mouth from the dorsal tow and the splashing contest (which they won). I see the sun dancing on the water while they playfully swim around me as I stroke their smooth skin. I remember their clicking and squeaking noises and the wonderful eye contact they made with me.
I really do believe they WERE smiling at me. They are so peaceful and fun that sometimes when I’ve been especially distressed I imagine swimming away with them. Usually all it takes is a minute before the big smile promenades across my face and I am taken far away from the madness for a while, then I do the butterfly.
Swimming with Dolphins
Pause to look at the stars (Shrinklady)
I thought I'd start this off with one of my personal self-soothing techniques. In the evening my dog Bobbi likes to get out for a few minutes for some fresh air. Being a pomeranian her undercoat is quite thick so she likes the cool air.
Bobbi helps me interrupt the procedure...so to speak. She helps me let go in my body and of the intensity that I'm prone to when I'm working on my website.
When I get outside I pause and look at the stars. I take a deep breath. Sometimes I do a few hip circles to help me unwind.