Finding Calm From Within: A Guide to Self-Soothing

By Jenna Caldwell, MA, MFT-C

Finding inner peace is paramount amid life’s challenges. We can harness our inner tranquility to navigate these challenges using self-soothing. In this blog, we’ll explore what self-soothing is, its effectiveness in promoting well-being, and various techniques you can incorporate into your daily routine to cultivate a sense of calm and balance.

Understanding Self-Soothing

Self-soothing is the ability to comfort and calm ourselves during moments of distress or emotional turmoil. The concept encourages us to use our five senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch) (Linehan, 2014). While this skill typically develops in early childhood, we can also learn self-soothing techniques through deliberate strategies, even if one didn’t naturally develop them during childhood (Wright, 2009).

However, many of us face obstacles when attempting to self-soothe. We may struggle to self-soothe due to various factors, including low self-worth, societal stigma, lack of skills, dependency on others, and avoidance coping.

Does Self-Soothing Work?

Yes, self-soothing can be highly effective for promoting emotional well-being and reducing stress. 

Self-soothing primarily activates the parasympathetic nervous system through relaxation techniques that prompt the body’s “rest and digest” response (Leung, 2023). The stimulation of the vagus nerve, an integral part of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), initiates this process. A series of responses follow including a reduction in heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels, signaling a shift towards relaxation and regulation.

Numerous studies have also demonstrated the effectiveness of self-soothing practices such as deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation in reducing anxiety, improving mood, and enhancing overall psychological well-being (Uvnäs-Moberg et al., 2015; Linehan, 2014).

Self-Soothing Techniques

Here are some effective self-soothing techniques:

Engage in Breathwork: Breathwork entails directing your attention to your breath, consciously controlling its rhythm and pattern to trigger the PNS response, inducing a profound sense of calmness throughout your body.

Tip: Experiment with different breathwork methods such as diaphragmatic breathing, box breathing, and alternate nostril breathing to find the technique that resonates best with you.

Mindfulness Meditation: Embrace the present moment without judgment. Sit comfortably, focus on your breath, and observe sensations, thoughts, and emotions. Start with short sessions, gradually extending them. Experiment with techniques like body scans and loving-kindness meditation to find what works best for you.

Tip: Explore guided meditations available on platforms like YouTube or smartphone apps such as Calm and InsightTimer.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): PMR is a relaxation method where you contract and then release muscle groups systematically. Start with your toes and feet, tensing briefly before relaxing completely. Repeat this process for each muscle group, working your way up the body.

Tip: Check out excellent guided progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) practices on YouTube. Here’s my personal favorite video!

Self-Soothing Toolbox: Create a lineup of activities that bring you joy, comfort, and relaxation, as they serve as effective forms of self-soothing. This can encompass listening to soothing music, indulging in a warm bath, or immersing yourself in nature. 

Tip: Craft a self-soothing toolkit stocked with activities and resources to keep you grounded and calm. Include items like scented candles, essential oils, stress-relief toys, or a journal.

Nurture with Nature: The healing power of nature is undeniable, impacting the mind, body, and soul. Abundant evidence showcases its myriad health benefits, from reducing anxiety and boosting mood to enhancing the immune system and fostering positive emotions (APA, 2020).

Tip: Spend time outdoors, whether it’s taking a leisurely walk in the park, gardening in your backyard, or simply sitting beneath a tree and soaking in the beauty of the natural world.

By integrating these techniques into daily life, individuals can bolster emotional resilience, elevate well-being, and confront life’s obstacles with greater efficacy. When necessary, seek support from loved ones, friends, or a professional therapist. Sharing your emotions and experiences fosters comfort, validation, and meaningful connections that nurture the soul.

References

Leung, K., “Effects of self-compassion on the psychobiological responses to weight stigma: A feasibility and proof-of-concept study” (2023). Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository.

Linehan, M. (2014). DBT Skills training manual. Guilford Publications.

Uvnäs-Moberg K., Handlin L., and Petersson M. (2015). Self-soothing behaviors with particular reference to oxytocin release induced by non-noxious sensory stimulation. Front. Psychol.5:1529. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01529

Weir, K. (2020). Nurtured by nature: Psychological research is advancing our understanding of how time in nature can improve our mental health and sharpen our cognition. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/04/nurtured-nature

Wright, J. (2009). Self-Soothing—A recursive intrapsychic and relational process: The contribution of the Bowen theory to the process of self-soothing. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 30(1), 29-41.

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