It might not be a concept we’re familiar with nor might we know what sorts of things might soothe us, but at times when we feel particularly anxious or distressed, self-soothing can be a useful part of our mental health toolkit.
Self-soothing is a tool we can use to soothe and calm ourselves when we’re anxious or distressed, without using medication or resorting to any negative coping strategies. It’s a way of comforting, nurturing, and being kind to ourselves. For some of us, there might be times when we do need medication, but self-soothing can still be a useful thing to try alongside it.
The level of noise around us can affect how we feel. Some of us like to be surrounded by sound; it can allow us to switch off because we can’t think of anything at all while we’re listening to things, allowing our mind to settle. For others, complete silence is preferable because it gives us the brain space to work things out. Many of us will find we fall somewhere in the middle, and a low level of noise can be comforting. It’s enough to stop us feeling totally alone but not so much that we feel overwhelmed.
If we’re not at home, headphones can help, either to give us some noise, or some background noise, or to quieten the world around us.
The things we listen to can affect how we feel, too. Some of us might have a particular playlist or piece of music that helps us to feel calmer. Other people find comfort in a particular radio station; the rhythm and routine of it can be soothing – perhaps a station that often played in a space that we’ve previously felt safe in. Podcasts or audiobooks can also be soothing; the rhythm of the words, or the way that they can take us out of our lives for a while, can be comforting, particularly if it’s one of our favourite books or speakers.
Blankets can be really comforting – and we don’t have to stick with just one. We can have as many blankets as we can fit in our house if we want to. Being under a blanket that is quite heavy (you can even buy weighted blankets) can help us to feel calm and slow our breathing down. Having differently textured blankets can allow us to focus on something outside of ourselves, and to ground ourselves. A comfort blanket can also be soothing – something that’s there when we need our tears wiping, and which smells like us and can provide some familiarity and a hug when things get rough.
When we’re anxious, our pupils often dilate. This can cause us to be incredibly sensitive to the light levels around us. Lowering the light can help to stop us from feeling anxious about how bright everything is. If we’re outside, we could use sunglasses. If we’re home, and we don’t have a dimmer switch on our main lights, we could use lamps, desk lights, candles or fairy lights instead of our main room lights. We could also use a colour changing light, or lava lamp if we find them soothing.
For some of us, certain smells can bring comfort and can help to calm us down. Using candles, incense, hot drinks, a specific fabric conditioner, or certain foods, can help us to create particular smells in our home. This can help us to feel calm and settled in our living space.
We can sometimes bring certain smells out and about with us. For example, if lavender is something that helps us to feel calm, then we could make or buy lavender pouches to pop in our pockets.
Chewing gum and boiled sweets can help to ground us because they give us something consistent to focus on. Small studies have shown that chewing gum can actually help us to reduce our anxiety levels at times of high-stress. Boiled sweets can often remind us of simpler times; the taste and sensation of sucking on them can help to take us back to those times.
Having something warm can help us to feel calm. It can help us to relax. A warm drink (particularly if it’s caffeine-free), a warm bath, a heat pack, or a hot water bottle can all help us to feel warm, cosy, and calm.
Pets can be soothing. Stroking, or playing with a pet, can help us to focus on something outside of ourselves and take us away from whatever is going on in our head. Stroking a pet, and feeling their warmth and the texture of their fur can help to lower our levels of anxiety. If we don’t have a pet, there are other ways we can get our animal fix such as offering to look after a friend’s pet, using something such as ‘borrow my doggy‘, volunteering at an animal shelter, or visiting a cat café.
There are loads of phone apps specifically designed to help us with anxiety. Once we’re all snuggled up under blankets, we might find one of these apps helpful. On top of apps specifically designed for mental health, there are lots of different games which can be engrossing, and we might find calming such as Flow Free or Paper.io. If we’d rather just watch something, apps such as Netflix, ‘catch up’ apps, or YouTube can help us to find a whole variety of things, from a show that we’re into, to a film we’ve always wanted to watch.
When our anxiety builds and builds, we sometimes just need to let it out, and crying can be a great way to do that. Sometimes we feel like we ‘shouldn’t’ be crying, and try to hold it in. But crying is a really natural thing to do. We all need a good cry every now and again – it can be incredibly cathartic.
Please help us to help others and share this post, you never know who might need it.