The goal with self-soothing skills is to comfort yourself emotionally by doing things that are sensually pleasant and, most especially, not harmful. At the same time, focusing your full attention on sensory inputs — on what you are physically experiencing in the moment (mindfulness) usually will get people outside of their own heads (and away from troubling thoughts, feelings, and impulses). psyke.com
Does that sound like something only a baby could use? The term “self-soothing” is most commonly used in reference to helping babies become more self-reliant when it comes to comforting needs, but I think adults need these skills too. With all of the potential sources of stress around us, it is helpful to remember that stress is a personal reaction to life situations, not a definite entity in itself. We all know people who turn everything into stress and those who seem to just cope better with life’s challenges.
While adults still need coping methods, just like babies, unhealthy options often take the place of a real solution. Substance abuse is certainly a common soother, capable of causing great destruction to health and relationships. Unique among abused substances, food is necessary for life, making abstinence impossible. Because many health issues arise from an overload of calories and poor food quality, finding healthy self-soothing methods when food is not needed can truly be a life-saving skill worth learning at any age.
In my daily life, I try to prevent stress from arising by practicing yoga when I can, getting regular exercise, and working with my thinking to notice the many things I am grateful for. Prevention helps, but I still feel stressed from time to time, and my ability to self-soothe is most important then. Staying present is a work in progress for everyone, but I know the key is to focus on sensory input that helps to take me out of my head and more into my body.
Some of my most dependable soothers are shown below. While massages, vacations, and dinners at nice restaurants can be wonderful too (!), they can be pricey and may not always fit into my schedule. (The first picture is one of several relaxing scenes I try to store in my memory – my way of taking vacations home with me to access when I need them most).
What works for you? Everyone has their own triggers for relaxation, just as different cues cause stress for each of us.