Dreisoerner et al. (2021) conducted a randomized control trial to assess whether self-soothing touch and being hugged had different effects on the stress response.
This study was conducted in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in widespread isolation for many people; traditional sources of interactive soothing were often unavailable. The researchers were keen to identify self-soothing techniques that could help alleviate distress during isolation and quarantine.
They found that both self-soothing touch (in this study, most participants chose to place their right hand on their heart and their left on their abdomen while focusing on the rising and falling of the breath) and receiving a hug from another person were equally effective at lowering stress levels.
Therefore, when other people are not available to hug, self-soothing touch could be a source of much-needed comfort and reassurance. For further instructions on this practice, see the video in the “How to Teach and Encourage Self-Soothing” section below.
10 Examples of Self-Soothing Behaviors
Some self-soothing behaviors that adults engage in can lead to other problems, for example, drinking alcohol, emotional eating, binge-watching TV, compulsive gaming, or internet surfing.
These may be effective in the short term but may result from experiential avoidance that leads to longer term problems.
Instead, clients should be encouraged to take up one of the following behaviors when life challenges threaten to overwhelm:
1. Change the environment
If possible, just change the environment for a few minutes. Go outside and focus on greenery or find a soothing indoor space with a pleasant view or ambiance.
2. Stretch for five minutes to move any blocked energy
Often, after upsetting news or a shock, our bodies respond by freezing and energy gets blocked. A few simple trunk twists, neck rotations, or bends at the hip to touch the toes can help shift stagnant energy.
3. Take a warm shower or bath
Treat yourself with soothing body wash or bubbles and a fresh, soft towel afterward.
4. Soothing imagery
Find soothing things to look at such as a burning candle, soft lights, pictures of loved ones, favorite places, or perhaps some framed inspirational resilience quotes or affirmations.
5. Soothing music
Listen to favorite tracks that have a calming effect or one of the many relaxing music videos for stress relief that are available online.
6. Soothing smells
Create pleasant smells by using an essential oil diffuser, scented candle, or incense. Also, try using scented hand lotion.
Speak compassionately to yourself aloud. Talk to yourself like a good friend would. Give yourself the grace to be off-balance and the space to just be as you are for a while.
3 Self-soothing coping skills for anxiety
Clients can try the following self-soothing practices to ease anxiety. Further anxiety coping skills and worksheets can be found in the worksheets section of this article.
1. Focused breathing
Exhale more slowly than you inhale to soothe anxiety quickly. In the video below, Dr. Rangan Chaterjee explains how the 3–4–5 breathing technique works.
Simply breathe in for a count of 3, hold your breath for a count of 4, and breathe out for a count of 5.