Therapy Lingo

Self-Soothing Techniques

Dozens to Choose From - What's Your Favourite?

What most folks get stuck on when looking for a self-soothing technique is trying to find something outside of themselves. Munching cookies, watching movies, guzzling booze are a few things that come to mind smiley-wink.gif

If you're stressed, anxious or maybe dealing with a crisis, try a self-soothing technique from body psychotherapy called resourcing. All you need is a little imagination from your right brain...

A resource is a person-place-thing that when sensed into, recalled or imagined feels good. It resonates positively in the nervous system. You can always recognize a good resource by the warm, positive feeling you get in your body.

Accessing Resources

When we access a resource, we are in effect engaging in a body-based process...we are "resourcing". We are triggering a positive experience by engaging the relaxation response.

resourcing using a chairI use this self-soothing technique with my clients all the time. I encourage them "to resource" in the moment. They know that this as a cue to sense into an image or a body sensation that momemtarily helps them feel better.

You can appreciate that the world is filled with resources. Yet, tapping into them when you're feeling overwhelmed can be a challenge. (And, for some folks with chronic anxiety or depression, accessing resources is the main problem!)

Because I'm a body psychotherapist, I frequently suggest to my clients, "feel your seat". In doing so, I am asking them to use their body as a resource, grounding their energy through their butt.

As you might guess, self-soothing strategies vary from individual to individual. While I find sitting in my car soothing (my car is a stable resource for me), an acquaintance of mine is happiest on his sailboat.

Resourcing for this article

Resources can be either inside of us or around us. For example, Carole is really intelligent, has a way with words and she's a cracker-jack editiorsmiley-wink.gif. Susan, on the other hand, has a passion for the Internet, marketing, and writing as she sees it. All of these qualities are internal resources.

On the other hand, external resources might be the places you've travelled to, fond memories, and loved ones.

The two of us working together on this article are accessing external resources. We are supports for each other. Resources in action!

BTW, one of the most natural ways human beings resource themselves is by talking to someone especially someone who we feel cares about us. How many times have you picked up the phone when you can't settle yourself over an troubling event?

If close friends are not available (there've been times when I didn't feel comfortable leaning on my friends) calling a therapist is often the best choice. (And if that describes your current situation right now, consider the PrestoExperts therapists as they're online 24/7.)

Design of myShrink

myShrink was specifically designed to make it resourcing for its visitors. The large number of images, inspiring quotes and fun kid sayings were all chosen for this purpose. The image box, in particular, was made to help visitors pause while they read.

So, if you haven't done so already, take a moment and click the image in the box in the upper left corner.

What is your favourite self-soothing technique?

Let us know what resources or self-soothing technique you use when you need some nurturing and support. Post them below in the Post-a-Comments.

Reviewed by: Coquitlam Psychologist Dr. Carole Gaato

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Poole Heller, Diane and Heller, Laurence S. (2001) Crash Course. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, pg. 63.

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Reader Comments

Unconscious swayer (Georgia, USA)

I sway side to side when I am sitting in a group. I have a bit of social anxiety disorder, but I'm not afraid of going to church or to a concert. Yet, when I am sitting in a chair in a public place, I have a tendency to sway side to side.

When I realize I'm doing it, I stop (to avoid being noticed), but once I start listening to the speaker again, I start swaying again. When one is supposed to be listening to a speaker, one's options for self soothing are limited. I wonder if there are medical causes which could be addresses.

Hello there "Unconscious Swayer" , I'm glad you asked this question. As a matter of fact, as a child I used to bounce against the couch and later as a teen and young adult, I needed to sway in the company of others. For years, I was embarrassed by it and tried controlling it especially, as you say, when out in public. I know now that I was self-soothing.

Just know "Unconscious Swayer" that this can be changed....and it doesn't require a medical intervention (although it helps if you have a therapist).

The need to rock and sway is a natural human instinct that arises from our womb and infancy. It no doubt is hard-wired in our genes. The rocking motion is a comfort much as being in the belly of our mothers as she walked through her day was soothing to us.

What's interesting about your question is that you "aren't afraid at church or at a concert". That's the biggest clue for me of what may be going on for you.

You see, we're more prone to being afraid when we're in high activation mode. This is a condition of the nervous system when it's amped up. Our level of activation is controlled by the reptilian-lizard brain - the part that protects us from danger.

How this fear shows up depends on how aware someone is of their own actions and the specifics of their history that pulls for different circumstances being "activating". 

Typically, the more people around and especially in unfamiliar settings, the more fear is triggered and the reptilian-lizard brain -  sensitive as it is to potential danger - goes on alert. High activation at a general level is causing the social anxiety and the unconscious need to sway.

Lowering your activation level is the easiest strategy to arrest this tendency.

I also wondered if it was possible that when you're listening to a lecture or a speaker, you start to zone out or dissociate?

That was a big problem for me in my school years. That would account for why you tend to forget to control the urge to sway. High activation tends to make us far less aware of our body actions. Please read the information on that page to see if it's a fit for you.

So you might guess at this point, that the swaying is only the tip of the iceberg. It's true. You may also find though, that in rectifying this tendency (i.e. by lowering your activation) you may actually improve your life on many levels. That's my hope for you.

I wish you the best,


P.S. If you want a head start on lowering your activation, consider my Brain Coaching Program - I developed it just for this purpose smiley-smile.gif


Using imagination (Israel)

When I was a child I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, and I had a more active imagination back then, so I delt with my anxiety disorder through imagined resourcing.

I'm unable to do that anymore for some reason, and I want to be able to do it again because my anxiety is becoming unbearable. Got any tips? Thanks.


Children are wonderful eh. Dana you instinctively knew what to do as child. Cause using our imagination taps into the right brain. And it's right brain experiences that will calm you down.

There is no need for you to suffer any more Dana. Anxiety can be cured. It does however require consistent work - the best kind in my view is with a body-based therapist.

I wish all the best,


Listening to a Spiritual CD

Whenever I feel dysregulated and "off", I listen to a CD of one of my favorite Spiritual leaders/Spiritual Mentors, which shifts my focus from a soulish/temporal realm to the spiritual/eternal realm bringing me peace, encouragement, and hope in knowing how much Bigger God is than my feelings, circumstances, or weaknesses; how intentional He is towards my healing and wholeness, how much He delights in me and smiles when looks at me; I'm His favorite! (Everyone can say they're His favorite and it's true).

After listening, I'm in a much better place emotionally and spiritually!

Angela, Simi Valley, CA

Holding something against my tummy

I find holding objects up to my tummy soothing. It calms me down, I don't understand why I do it. And no one else Iv talked to has ever really done it or heard of anyone doing it to sooth my self.

Is it normal...? Why might I do this?

Kayla, Wisconsin

Oh, yes for sure it's normal Kayla. It's containing. It provides a boundary for an area of your body that's vulnerable. I often get my clients to position their hands over their tummy for that feeling of support and emotional containment.


Having a good cry

Really good resources, thank you! Can crying be considered as self-soothing?! I hear some would even describe it as cleansing yourself of negative or harmful emotions. ?! No?!

Mimi, Las Vegas, Nevada

Absolutely, crying can indeed be soothing Mimi. I agree totally. In fact, it's an opportunity most folks don't know how to make the most of.

If you accompany your tears with a feeling or image of being comforted, your healing can go double deep.

Definitely more on the subject...


Cozy Bed and a Massage

My bed feels like the safest place to be during difficult times. Curling up under the covers calms me down and makes me feel safe and secure.

Sometimes, watching therapeutic massage videos especially head, neck, shoulder massage gives me a much needed release. Its also helpful when I can't sleep. ET

That sounds wonderful ET! I recommend getting under the covers quite often to my clients so I am glad to see you posted it. It's true isn't it...curling up under covers is one of the best feelings. Yum.

I'm reminded by your suggestion ET how often when I initially mention it to others, I get the response that folks feel guilty.  Even though their body is giving a strong message to do so they undermine their own healing instincts.

So even if they do manage to get under covers, their experience is just not the same because they're in their thoughts berating themselves instead of enjoying the cozy, safe feeling.

And, it never occurred to me to watch massage videos - what a good idea. I'll have to try that.




I'm 15 and I absolutely love rocking myself when im upset or tired a more acceptable way for me to rock is a rocking chai.

But in the privacy of my room I air on the floor Indian style and rock. Makes me feel good no one knows I do it and im embarrassed. But I love it is it normal.


Absolutely it's normal Lecia. We rock babies to soothe them - we know instinctively that it calms them down. That we feel the urge to "rock" years later doesn't make any less valuable.

Unfortunately, in our modern age, we've become so distanced from our own body signals we get ashamed or even alarmed at what is actually natural and human. I think it's because our culture tends to place a higher status and value on left brain intellectual pursuits.


Hugs and a Soothing, Comforting Voice (PA, USA)

My daughter (5years old) is often overcome with emotions. It can be very difficult to help her calm down. Any suggestions to help a little one self-soothe? (She is developmentally delayed and had a difficult first year of life but is doing well now.) Thanks for any help.


Hi Kathy, what a wonderful question. Your attention your daughter's emotional upsets is probably the most important thing you can do to ensure her later happiness and ability to manage  emotions and stress as an adult.

I'm sure you already know this instinctively Kathy but sometimes given all the competing parenting messages out there it gets lost:

Soothing a distressed child

Picking her up and holding her, rocking her and using a soothing tone of voice are the best strategies for helping her calm down.

Overtime, this will help develop her capacity to do this on her own. You see, she'll internalize your voice. (The body hears first!)

Don't worry that she may need more comforting than another child her age. Owing to her early tough start, she requires a little more tender loving care.

Give her the comforting power of touch and soothing voice and over time she will require less. She will learn to develop her own capacity to self-soothe.

Now, I'm not saying to frantically rush over and soothe her at any small sign of emotional upset (that can get in her way for developing the capacity for self-soothing).

You see, crying per se is not the problem. Rather, not being consistently consoled when we do poses one of the greatest risks for the developing brain of infants and young children. A baby or child left to cry too often can lead to a hypersenstivity to stress.

In other words, extended periods of time when a child is not soothed can be harmful to the developing brain.

Kathy this may be old news to you but transitional objects like stuffed toys can also be used. During moments when things feel out of control for her "stuffies" can be a powerful backup. I suggest sitting with your daughter, grabbing her favourite "stuffy" and all three of you taking in the comfort.

That way, when you're not around, she has her "stuffy" to help her navigate these emotional storms. The memory of the three of you will be close by.

And if you've been reading elsewhere on this site, the capacity of your nervous system to self-soothe and regulate emotions goes a long way in helping your daughter learn how to do this for herself. You see, we can only help contain emotions in another individual to the degree that we can contain them within ourselves.

That means keeping your nervous system in tip top, nature walks, body psychotherapy etc. (Including my Brain Coaching Program...shameless plug smiley-surprised.gif)

And not to mention Kathy, the more you're in tune with yourself, the better able you'll be to catch your daughter's emotional states early and preempt meltdowns.

Because it's our own awareness to ourselves that lets us know what's going on for others. (Most Moms will know that when they're stressed, their children get stressed.)

There's one more important idea that I'd like share with you Kathy. Chances are your daughter will have a hard time adjusting to change. You may want to avoid situations where she gets overwhelmed.

touch helps soothe

Yet, we know that developmentally new experiences are necessary for growth.

So what to do?

The best way to handle this is to titrate any new experience for her. In other words, take baby steps in adjusting to the new situation.

So here's an example. Let's say, you're planning to go to a different park. This may or may not pose a problem for your daughter but if it does, I'd play with her in the new park first instead of sitting on the sidelines. Then when she seems settled in, take a few steps back adjusting as necessary.

Then apply this same strategy for any new activity or venture.

Hope this helps,

Shrinklady & Dr. Carole

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