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don't determine where you can go;
they merely determine where you start.

Self-Soothing: Your Way Out Of Stress

Sometimes, as they say, “life happens.”

Whether life is going well or you’re going through some tough times, you need to have strategies for staying grounded. Today I want to tell you about a psychological concept that is essential in this regard: self-soothing.

The importance of soothing goes back to our childhood days and the need for a kind of warm, caring, and protected experience when we encountered the unpredictability and stressors of the world. It’s all about how we are aware of our distress and use means to calm / nurture ourselves to get out of that triggered zone.

What Did You Learn About Self-Soothing in Growing Up?

While parental soothing might seem an ideal response toward children when they are distressed, there are times when that doesn’t happen.

And if you grew up in a household where there the adults were often stressed out or not available, you probably had lots of experiences of non-soothing responses from them.

In part, this is why many people do not really know how to go about self-soothing—they simply never learned how to do it.

In addition, as children develop and grow, they get social messages that equate the normal, natural need for soothing to being infantile or–worse–something they should have outgrown.

Soothing is a normal and healthy response to distress and has nothing to do with gender or age.
Hey, we’re still just as capable of being stressed out as adults! For that reason it’s essential to have this strategy in your coping skills toolbox.


Soothing vs. Distraction: What’s the Difference?

In therapy, some clients will comment that they soothe themselves by doing something like exercise or watching T.V., or using alcohol or drugs; as such, they are confusing soothing with distraction.


Distraction can indeed be a useful strategy for some situations, but soothing involves a connection with the self, whereas distraction takes us away from ourselves. As such, it tends to be of limited usefulness, particularly in the longer run.


Often, we rely primarily on distraction as a means to cope with distress, we will end up feeling like we have to keep running from part of ourselves.

Okay, So How do I Self-Soothe?

It’s really simple. All you need are two ingredients:

  1. The Right Attitude: Permission and Self-Compassion
  2. Self-Connecting Activities

First, think about all the different ways you can be gentle and nurturing to yourself. Soothing isn’t just about “doing something”—like having a warm bath. It is equally about the attitude you pair with the activity. Soothing requires that you tune into what you are saying to yourself and ease away from being critical.


Now is the time for permission and easing up any restrictive self-talk.
Acknowledge the sense of distress—move away from blaming yourself to being more responsive to yourself. 


Second, consider some possible self-soothing activities you could try:


  • Going for a walk,
  • Visiting a place you feel safe and positive associations with
  • Brewing hot tea,
  • Talking with a trusted friend,
  • Asking for and receiving hugs,
  • Writing in a journal
  • Being near water or nature
  • Spending time with pets


See if you can come up with a list of things you already do and add a few new ones in! Experiment and practice building your self-soothing capacity.