10 Effective Self-Soothing Techniques For Adults

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The act of self-soothing is an integral part of human nature. Even as infants, we practice the common self-soothing technique of sucking our thumb to cool our emotions and find comfort.

As you get older, sucking your thumb doesn’t quite provide the same kind of benefit it did when you were a baby. We need to develop better self-soothing techniques as adults, so that we don’t fall into negative, destructive habits.

Before we get to the techniques, you need to understand the purpose and approach of healthy self-soothing.

What is the purpose of self-soothing?

Life is stressful. People are complicated and sometimes unkind. There’s tragedy, turmoil, and poverty in the world. It’s rough out there for a lot of people.

Dealing with the complications of just trying to navigate life can be distressing. A relationship may not be going well, work might be a grind, or maybe the bills are stacking up with no end in sight.

Oh, did we mention mental illness? Because mental illness adds a whole different layer to the challenges of life.

And through all of that, we have to find a way to maintain a little peace and happiness.

That’s where self-soothing comes in.

Self-soothing is the active management of your negative emotions so they can be dealt with healthily. These techniques help you calm your mind in the chaos and reduce the impact of stress on your body.

Stress itself will negatively affect you, from the stress hormone cortisol’s long-term presence to the aggravation of mental health symptoms to sleepless nights worrying at the ceiling.

What are some good self-soothing techniques for adults?

People respond differently to particular self-soothing techniques, so “good self-soothing technique” isn’t necessarily accurate.

The best self-soothing technique is going to be the one that works for you. Just make sure that you try the technique multiple times before it writing off as ineffective.

Self-management of stress and mental health issues are typically not straightforward or immediate. It’s a skill that you may need to work on to reap the benefits.

The self-soothing techniques most likely to work involve pulling your mind and attention away from the source of the distress.

You may have also heard this referred to as “grounding” yourself, as in, bringing yourself back to the ground from the extreme heights of your emotions.

Some suggestions include:

1. A hot bubble bath.

The bubbles, water temperature, and the scent will help pull your attention from your emotions to the bath. Sitting in hot water can be soothing for your body. It helps your muscles relax, which provides other physiological benefits that can help with calming.

2. Suck on an ice cube.

The intense cold of the ice cube brings your attention to the ice cube. Your mind will have a hard time focusing on your emotions when demanding that you pay attention to the sharp coldness in your mouth.

3. Curl up under a weighted blanket.

A weighted blanket can be helpful for people with anxiety and stress issues. The pressure of the weight is comforting and helps put your nervous system into rest mode. That helps to reduce anxious thoughts, heartbeat, and breathing.

4. Employ box breathing.

What is box breathing? Inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, and repeat the process. Count out the seconds. Focus on the counting and your breathing. Breathing exercises are a common and effective way to self-soothe and regain control.

We made the following box breathing animated GIF to help you focus on getting your breathing intervals right:

box breathing GIF

5. Defuse negative thoughts with positive ones.

Negative thoughts will amplify negative emotions. You cannot sit in a mental space where you are tearing yourself down or telling yourself how everything can go wrong.

Instead, rewrite the narrative that is playing through your head. Focus on the positive. How can things go well? What did you do right? And if you can’t be positive at the moment, just strive to not be negative. It helps.

6. Remind yourself that you are not responsible for the actions of others.

Well, sometimes you are. Like if your kid breaks a window or something. But for the most part, you’re not responsible for other people’s actions, so why waste valuable energy on them? Remind yourself of that when you’re feeling angry, frustrated, or sad about others’ actions.

7. Employ visual meditation.

Visual meditation is a bit different than what most people think of when they hear meditation. It’s less about clearing your mind of thoughts and more about focusing on a particular thing to clear your mind of everything other than that thing.

For example, you can light a candle and look into the flame. Consider the flame, the wick, the wax, the smoke, the smell of the candle. If you’re spiritually inclined, you can meditate on a religious icon and its symbolism as it is likely to be something you know well enough to think deeply of.

8. Watch something funny.

Take your mind off of your emotions and troubles by spending some time with a funny show or movie that you enjoy. Not only does the visual stimulation give you something to focus on, but laughter helps your brain produce some feel-good chemicals that can help brighten the environment of your brain.

9. Drink a hot cup of tea.

A hot cup of tea gives you several things to focus your mind on while you drink it. There are the aroma and taste of the tea. You also have the heat of the tea on your tongue, down your throat, and coming to rest in your stomach that you can focus on.

10. Play with a pet.

Pets are an excellent source of stress relief and unconditional love. Spend some time with a pet if things are stormy and challenging in your mind. Focus your attention on your pet, playing with them, petting them, and thinking about them to help pull your mind away from your everyday stresses.

Avoid unhealthy self-soothing.

As you can see, there are many ways to practice self-soothing healthily. Most involve creating positive feelings in yourself, distracting yourself from your source of distress for a little while, or actively focusing your senses on different sensations.

Of course, there are plenty of negative things that people do to self-soothe that you should avoid. These kinds of things may provide some sort of immediate comfort, but they will cause a lot of harm in the long-term. You’re looking at things like:

– Drinking or drugs

– Long-term avoidance of problems

– Self-harm

– Risky sex or promiscuity

Self-destructive behavior

– Smoking

– Gambling

– Over or under-eating

– Eating junk food

– Overworking

– Over or under-sleeping

Lots of things can be okay in moderation. We’re not suggesting that you move to a monastery or convent. It’s just that a lot of people use these unhealthy coping mechanisms to try to create some peace in their mind or happiness in their life and don’t realize they are setting themselves up for long-term failure.

Any one of these things, or maybe even a combination, can bring some temporary relief. The problem comes when it becomes a habit. As you do it more, it works less and less, so you seek more and more.

Next thing you know, it’s years later, and you’re trying to dig yourself out of a hole of negative, destructive habits that could have been avoided.

Don’t do that to yourself. Healthy self-soothing and emotional regulation can help you navigate the stresses of life without long-term repercussions.

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About The Author

Jack Nollan is a person who has lived with Bipolar Disorder and Bipolar-depression for almost 30 years now. Jack is a mental health writer of 10 years who pairs lived experience with evidence-based information to provide perspective from the side of the mental health consumer. With hands-on experience as the facilitator of a mental health support group, Jack has a firm grasp of the wide range of struggles people face when their mind is not in the healthiest of places. Jack is an activist who is passionate about helping disadvantaged people find a better path.