Distress Tolerance: Self-Soothing

I first heard of self-soothing as it relates to small children but a few years ago as I started practicing DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) I also learned that it’s a skill we need to cultivate as an adult. Making ourselves feel better is a pretty underrated talent.

DBT focuses on four main things, mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation, and distress tolerance. Distress tolerance is how we learn to bring ourselves down from super strong emotions. I used to have such strong spikes of emotion. My moods would go from 0 to 100 almost instantly. Anger, sadness, depression, overwhelm – one minute I’m fine and then something (usually) little happens and suddenly I’m feeling all of the feels. Distress tolerance is about bringing those feelings back down to a manageable level so that you’re able to deal with them without being destructive or lashing out.

It’s essential to know how to self-soothe.

Even if you don’t have trouble regulating your emotions, it’s still important to learn how to self-soothe. When you are having moments of stress, anxiety, or crankiness, you want to be able to love yourself out of it or love yourself through those feelings. You’d be surprised at how many people just don’t know how to do this in a constructive way. They get overwhelmed with negative emotions and they turn to destructive ways to cope, like lashing out, unhealthy coping tools, or complete avoidance.

Self-soothing is such a wonderful act of self-care. It’s a soft and gentle way of letting yourself know that you’ll be okay. That you are taken care of and worthy. It’s so important to learn how to treat yourself with kindness and compassion especially in those moments when you feel like crap.

Also, if you’re an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) it’s even more important to find ways to love on yourself because you’re so often affected by the moods and feelings of other people as well as your own. Self-soothing helps you tolerate feeling uncomfortable emotions, especially if it’s something that you deal with on a daily basis. It helps you regulate your own emotions and that is essential for people who are in a caregiver role.

When to self-soothe:

When you’re having a stressful day
Dealing with big life changes like grief or heartache
When you’re experiencing emotional exhaustion or feeling burned out
Feeling overwhelmed by your emotions
Feeling like you want to be self-destructive
Sensitivity to feelings and emotions

The easiest way to find what works for you is to go through the five senses and then go with the one that has the biggest calming effect on you.


Touch is a great way to immediately ground yourself and bring you back into the present, into the moment. What works best for me is lovingly touching my cheek, ya know, caressing… it sounds like such a weird way to comfort yourself but it works every time to settle me down. So does soothingly running my fingers through my hair. Don’t be afraid to be weird about it. Weird is good. We like weird here.

Surround yourself with soft things like blankets, pajamas, or pillows (I love microfiber plush)

Cuddle up with your favorite furball and feel their soft warmth against you

Put a blanket in the dryer for a few minutes and then wrap it around you, so warm and toasty

Take a hot bath or a cold shower

Use a heated blanket or a weighted blanket

Silly putty, slime, or anything you can squeeze

Stuffed animals or body pillows to cuddle up with

Ice packs or heating pads can help regulate your emotions and bring you out of intense ones

Give yourself a massage


I’m a huge fan of aromatherapy, so if you have any interest in that kind of thing you should start experimenting with lavender and chamomile, two of my favorite calming scents. Put them in a diffuser, in a lotion, or you can spray them around your room or on your pillow.

Run a bubble bath with yummy smelly bath stuffs

Go outside and enjoy the many earthy scents of nature

Light your favorite candle

Bake something sweet that makes you think of your childhood

Buy yourself flowers or plant your favorite ones in your yard so you can sit outside and drink in the smell

Find a scent for your home that makes you fall completely in love

Create a ritual of lighting your favorite incense

If the weather is nice, open all of your windows and let in the fresh air

Pay attention to how you smell, use deodorant, perfumes, or body sprays that you associate with comfort (I have been known to stick my head into my shirt just to smell myself)


The easiest way to self-soothe with sight is to make sure that your surroundings are nice to look at. Analyze the atmosphere of your home and see if your walls are covered in colors, art, or wall hangings that you like. My living room is full of color and houseplants and comfortable niches and the minute I walk inside and see everything I get an overwhelming feeling of home, comfort, and happiness.

Watch an ASMR video (they’re so soothing!)

Surround yourself with soothing colors like blues, greens, and purples, or any other colors that give you that peaceful vibe

Dim the lights or light a few candles.

Pull the curtains back and enjoy natural sunlight

Go on a nature walk

Use a sleeping mask to have a reprieve and relax

Get an adult coloring book and use colors that represent your mood

Read or watch a movie

Make a photo collage or a Pinterest Board of pleasing images (rainbows, unicorns, and mermaids please)


The taste of things can trigger powerful memories and it’s the perfect time to take a trip down memory lane. Sleepytime tea instantly transports me back to a time when I was little and at my grandma’s watching the Last Unicorn in an oversized t-shirt. Instant comfort, warmth, and happiness. What flavor or food takes you back to that magical time?

Eat something good or good for you

Eat slowly and savor every moment, make it an experience instead of eating your feelings

Drink something special, hot cocoa, tea, sparkling cider, anything that’s a little out of the everyday but makes you happy

Keep a box of your favorite candies

Something minty like gum or something sour can be a tiny jolt to your system to bring you back to yourself


This is currently my favorite way to self-soothe. Usually when I get super anxious one of the first signs is sensory overload. I become really sensitive to sound and noise and if there’s too much of it I get agitated. That’s why focusing on sound is usually my go-to.

Listen to music, preferably the calming soothing kind instead of the angry rage-y kind

Nature sounds are also a great addition when you need to calm down, especially if you can’t make your way to a beach or a rainforest or a rainy day

Silence can also be a great soother

Noise canceling headphones

ASMR videos have so many great and soothing sounds

Binaural beats are specific sound frequencies that can help you relax

Get the Insight Timer app and experiment with guided meditation

Make different music playlists for specific moods

In what ways do you self-soothe? What is your absolute favorite?