March 27, 2020

Ways to Calm and Soothe Yourself

Written by Rachel Eddins

woman using strategies to calm and soothe stress and anxiety

Self-Care Strategies for Times You Feel Stressed and Overwhelmed

We can all feel stressed and emotionally overwhelmed. Each of us, however, may find different types of activities soothing and may need different types of soothing activities at different times.

Below are the general categories of soothing self-care activities.

Identify your preferred style of self-soothing:

  • Creativity
  • Comforting your sensesTry these tips to help keep calm
  • Connection
  • Mental engagement
  • Focusing on something else
  • Physical activity
  • Calming and quieting.

See the chart below for some ideas on strategies you can try.


Identify what might be your preferred method of soothing and select one or two items to try. Check in with yourself and see how you feel. You may find that you prefer a variety of strategies.

Ask yourself, “what would compel me to nurture myself in one of these areas right now?

Follow it up by asking, “what are my perceived barriers to self soothing? What keeps me from responding to my needs?”  It can be helpful to identify what factors are likely to derail your efforts so you can cope ahead. Once you’ve identified your barriers, check in and identify what support you need in place to cope with or prevent them?

Cope ahead by identifying: 

  1. 5 ways you relax.
  2. 5 people who comfort you.
  3. 5 activities that provide a little soothing.
  4. 5 places that are comforting (your favorite chair, back patio, friend’s house).

Create a distress tool kit.

Add your favorite items such as scented lotion, gum (chewing gum has a calming effect on the brain), tea bags, essential oil, bubble wrap, journal, etc. Consider items that activate your senses and feel calming to you (ie., lavender scented lotion, candles, a stress ball/putty, chapstick, etc). Keep these items handy and accessible to you.

You can also keep a “distress” playlist on your phone with your favorite music, soothing music, or even guided imagery or meditations that help you relax. If you are visual, you can curate a “soothing images” collection of inspiring photos or quotes on your phone to lift you up when you need a boost. You could include places you want to travel, beautiful, inspiring photography, photos of kids, pets, family members, or even photos of yourself as a child. Keeping a collection of funny videos saved on your device can come in handy when you need an uplift. You can also save poems, quotes, stories, prayers, or affirmations that lift you up and feel supportive.

Keep these items available to you by taking time to organize and curate them now. That way, they’ll be easy to access when you feel overwhelmed.

Use self-touch to increase oxytocin when stressed.

  • Try cupping your jaw with your hands. Many of us hold tension in our jaws – this is one thing that can trigger the urge to eat or “crunch” food. Try holding your jaw in your hands supportively and even gently massaging it to release tension.
  • Place your hands over your heart center. Breathe in and out, directing your breathe gently into your heart center and back out again (whatever that means to you). Holding your heart is one way of giving yourself a hug.
  • Hug your arms. Cross your arms over each other and give yourself a hug. Hold it until you feel your shoulders drop ever so slightly and relax.

Practice Deep Breathing

Set an alarm to remind yourself to practice at different times of the day every day.

Breathe in through your nose (3-5 counts), hold (5-7 counts), and exhale through your mouth (7-9 counts). Exhale twice as long as your inhale. If you get dizzy, exhale for 2 counts longer and pause for 2 counts before you start to inhale again.

Be sure you are “belly breathing” vs. chest breathing.

Practice breathing each time you need to feel calm. Stop, slow down and breathe.

Increase Pleasure

Using the list below or your own ideas, make a list of everything in your life, accessible to you now, that gives you pleasure. Focus on the little things vs the big things. Maybe it’s listening to your favorite song from when you were in high school, or spending time coloring, or wearing clothes fresh from the dryer. What are the little things in your day to day that bring you pleasure or have in the past? How can you increase those right now?

Try the GLAD Journaling Technique

When you get caught up in negative thoughts and expectations, focusing on positives can help tip the scale in the other direction.self soothing techniques
G – something for which I’m grateful
L – something I learned
A – something I accomplished
D – something in which I delighted



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