I must apologize for our lack of blog posts over the past several months. We have been busy in our practice, finding ways to serve both our clients and the clinicians and mental health professionals that we help with consultation and training.
But, we are back in action, and I thought that, for this blog, I would spend some time talking about a skill that can be very helpful in managing urges to engage in self-harm or other self-destructive behaviours – Self-Soothing, from Dr. Marsha Linehan’s (1993b) distress tolerance skills.
Self-Soothing to Calm the Mind
During our groups, we often discuss self-soothing and ways that we can all help to calm our minds. This skill involves activating your senses in a calming and comforting way to help calm your mind. You can also think of self soothing as an act of kindness and caring toward yourself when you’re going through a rough time. Self-soothing can make a difficult situation a little easier to bear.
As you might imagine, it is critically important that you self-soothe mindfully, with your full attention. You have to have your mind open and awake to the experience for self-soothing to work best. For this next couple of weeks, practice self-soothing even if you aren’t going through a difficult time so that you get as much practice as you can. If you already self-soothe on a regular basis, that’s excellent. It can be helpful to use older, tried-and-true self-soothing activities, but I would strongly encourage you to try out several new ones as well.
Find ways to activate your 5 senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch:
- Sight: look at flowers, animals, insects, beautiful nature scenes, paintings.
- Smell: burn incense or aromatherapy candles; walk into a flower shop; smell a cup of coffee or ground coffee beans, soap, fresh linens, or bath salts.
- Hearing: listen to soothing, calming music, even if what soothes you is loud music; listen to birds chirping; cars driving by outside; children playing
- Taste: bite into a piece of comfort food; eat mindfully and slowly with your full attention
- Touch: get a massage; rub your own hand; touch a fabric that you love; stretch; do yoga; hug someone.
Although self-soothing can help you survive a crisis, it can also be a part of your self-care regimen in regular daily life. Sit for a moment and notice how your coffee smells in the morning, or how the warm cup feels in your hand. Stop and listen to the birds chirping, and really let your mind sink into the experience even if only for a few minutes. Play calming music while doing the dishes. Walk into a flower shop on your way somewhere and take in the smells and sights. Look for opportunities wherever you are in your everyday life to notice things that bring your mind peace.
For some further reading on self-soothing in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT):
Linehan (1993b). Skills training manual for treating borderline personality disorder. New York: The Guilford Press.