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Coping With Stress Using Self-Soothing Skills

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Updated October 28, 2008

When you are upset, it is important to have ways of coping with stress. For example, seeking out social support can be an excellent way of improving your mood. However, symptoms of PTSD, such as unpleasant memories or thoughts about a past traumatic event, can sometimes occur unexpectedly, and social support may not be readily available.

Therefore, it is important to learn coping strategies that you can do on your own. Coping strategies focused on improving your mood that you can do on your own are sometimes described as self-soothing or self-care coping strategies.

Effective self-soothing coping strategies may be those that involve one or more of the five senses (touch, taste, smell, sight, and sound). Listed below are examples of self-soothing strategies for each sense.

Touch

  • Soaking in a warm bath
  • Getting a massage
  • Relaxing in the warmth of the sun
  • Stretching
  • Going for a swim
  • Changing into comfortable clothes
  • Playing with an animal

Taste

  • Eating a comforting meal
  • Sipping herbal tea
  • Eating healthy food
  • Slowly sucking on hard candy

Smell

  • Shopping for flowers
  • Smelling lavender or vanilla
  • Lighting a scented candle
  • Deeply breathing in fresh air

Sight

  • Seeing a funny movie or watching a funny television show
  • Reading a good book
  • Looking at pictures of loved ones
  • Looking at pictures of a past vacation or places that you would like to visit
  • Watching the clouds

Sound

  • Listening to relaxing music
  • Singing to yourself
  • Saying positive statements to yourself or self-encouragement
  • Playing a musical instrument

When engaging in these strategies, make sure to focus completely on the task at hand. That is, be mindful of your senses and what you are experiencing, and anytime you are distracted, simply bring your attention back to what you are doing.

Come up with your own self-soothing strategies that you can do when you are upset. Try to come up with as many as you can. The more you can come up, the better off you will be in improving your mood when you are experiencing distress.

Source:
Linehan, M.M. (1993). Skills training manual for treating borderline personality disorder. New York: Guilford Press.

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