Self Soothing

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Self-soothing is a strategy that helps you to cope with overwhelming negative emotions or intolerable situations. Self-soothing strategies take a lot of practice, but as you get the hang of using some of these techniques, you will see your relationship to the negative emotions and intolerable feelings change.  You will find some things work better than others for you. You may also find that some things don't work at first, but with time and practice you will see some results.

Self-Soothing Techniques

Some of us may recognize these techniques as things we already use, but many of us have never learned how to self-soothe, how to do those often simple things that makes us feel better. These are mostly very physical techniques that use different body senses. Some of us have never had the feeling that we could do things to make ourselves feel better, calmer, or more relaxed. I urge you to experiment with these techniques until you find some that are comfortable and helpful for you. When you find these, practice them. Use them when you are feeling distressed, when emotions feel overwhelming, when situations feel like you can't stand them anymore. Instead of doing something that hurts you, try something that gives you pleasure and comfort.

SELF-SOOTHING has to do with comforting, nurturing and being kind to yourself. One way to think of this is to think of ways of soothing each of your five senses:

  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Touch

Walk in a pretty part of town. Look at the nature around you. Go to a museum with beautiful art. Buy a flower and put it where you can see it. Sit in a garden. Watch the waves crash against the sand. Light a candle and watch the flame. Look at a book with beautiful scenery or beautiful art. Watch a travel movie or video.  

Listen to beautiful or soothing music, or to recordings of the ocean or other calming sounds.  Listen to a baby cooing or a small animal. Sit by a waterfall or fountain. Listen to someone chopping wood.  When you are listening, be mindful, letting the sounds come and go.

Smell breakfast being cooked at home or in a restaurant. Notice all the different smells around you. Walk in a garden or in nature and breathe in the smells around you. Light a scented candle or use essential oils. Bake some bread or a cake and take in all the smells.

Have a special treat, and eat it slowly, savoring each bite. Cook a favorite meal. Drink a soothing drink like herbal tea or hot cocoa. Let the taste run over your tongue and slowly down your throat. Go to a potluck, and eat a little bit of each dish, mindfully tasting each new thing.

Pet your dog or cat or cuddle a baby. Put on a silk shirt or blouse and feel its softness and smoothness. Take a bath or hot shower. Sink into a really comfortable bed or curl up under a cozy blanket.  Float or swim in a pool or the ocean and feel the water caress your body.



Many of us may feel like we don't deserve these comforts and may find it hard to give pleasure to ourselves in this way. Do you have these feelings? Some of us may also expect this soothing to come from other people, or not want to do it for ourselves. Have you experienced this feeling?

You may feel guilty about allowing yourself to luxuriate in this way. It may take some practice to allow yourself to experience these pleasures. These are really simple human pleasures that everyone has a right to, and that will give you some good tools to use when you are feeling bad.


Try at least one of these self-soothing exercises this week. You may want to choose a whole group of things, say a number of the visual things, or you may want to choose a single exercise to try. As you do what you have chosen, do it mindfully.  Breathe gently, and try to be fully in the experience, whether it is walking in nature, looking at a flower,  of smelling fresh-baked cookies.

As you begin to overcome your feelings that perhaps you do not deserve this and start to enjoy one or more of these activities, you will be learning very useful tools to help you deal with negative feelings and difficult situations.





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The Basics of Mindfulness Practice

Mindfulness helps us put some space between ourselves and our reactions, breaking down our conditioned responses. Here’s how to tune into mindfulness throughout the day:

  1. Set aside some time. You don’t need a meditation cushion or bench, or any sort of special equipment to access your mindfulness skills—but you do need to set aside some time and space, even if it is just a few minutes.
  2. Observe the present moment as it is. The aim of mindfulness is not quieting the mind, or attempting to achieve a state of eternal calm. The goal is simple: we’re aiming to pay attention to the present moment, without judgement. Easier said than done, we know.
  3. Let your judgments roll by. When we notice judgments arise during our practice, we can make a mental note of them, and let them pass like clouds passing through the sky.
  4. Return to observing the present moment as it is. Our minds often get carried away in thought. That’s why mindfulness is the practice of returning, again and again, to the present moment.
  5. Be kind to your wandering mind. Don’t judge yourself for whatever thoughts crop up, just practice recognizing when your mind has wandered off, and gently bring it back.

That’s the practice. It’s often been said that it’s very simple, but it’s not necessarily easy. The work is to just keep doing it. Results will accrue.


How to Meditate

This meditation focuses on the breath, not because there is anything special about it, but because the physical sensation of breathing is always there and you can use it as an anchor to the present moment. Throughout the practice you may find yourself caught up in thoughts, emotions, sounds—wherever your mind goes, simply come back again to the next breath. Even if you only come back once, that’s okay.


A Simple Meditation Practice

  1. Sit comfortably. Find a spot that gives you a stable, solid, comfortable seat.
  2. Notice what your legs are doing. If on a cushion, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. If on a chair, rest the bottoms of your feet on the floor.
  3. Straighten your upper body—but don’t stiffen. Your spine has natural curvature. Let it be there.
  4. Notice what your arms are doing. Situate your upper arms parallel to your upper body. Rest the palms of your hands on your legs, wherever it feels most natural.
  5. Soften your gaze. Drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downward. You can simply let what appears before your eyes be there without focusing on it. You also may close your eyes if you like.
  6. Feel your breath. Bring your attention to the physical sensation of breathing: the air moving through your nose or mouth, the rising and falling of your belly or your chest.
  7. Notice when your mind wanders from your breath. Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. Don’t worry. There’s no need to block or eliminate thinking. When you notice your mind wandering gently return your attention to the breath.
  8. Be kind about your wandering mind. You may find your mind wandering constantlythat’s normal. Instead of wrestling with your thoughts, practice observing them without reacting. Just sit and pay attention. As hard as it is to maintain, that’s all there is. Come back to your breath over and over again, without judgment or expectation.
  9. When you’re ready, gently lift your gaze (if your eyes are closed, open them). Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment. Notice how your body feels right now. Notice your thoughts and emotions.





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