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When we experience intense emotions, it can be tough to cope. We may feel like we’re all alone in how we’re feeling, or that our emotions are too much to handle. However, there are ways to soothe ourselves and tolerate distressing emotions by using sensory comfort.

In this beginner’s guide, we’ll explore what self-soothing is and how it can help us manage our intense emotions. By the end of this guide, you will have a better understanding of how to self-soothe using sensory comfort and how beneficial even 2 minutes of comfort can feel in surviving distressing emotions and life experiences. Thank you for reading!

What are common distressing emotions that people experience?

Life can be overwhelming and it’s natural to feel a range of distressing emotions such as anxiety, sadness, and anger. These feelings can be overwhelming and intense, making us feel hopeless or helpless.

Whenever we experience strong emotions, it is important to challenge them with self-compassion and the understanding that humans experience a wide range of complicated emotions due to our unique needs. Recognizing and validating how we feel is the first step in navigating our way through the intense feelings that life throws our way.

What is self-soothing and how can it help you tolerate emotional distress?

Self-soothing is a vital practice in creating a safe environment to make sense of our emotions. It’s a coping skill used to manage overwhelming and/or intense distressing – or possibly even positive – emotions. Allowing yourself to feel these emotions fully is an important first step, and then moving onto validating these emotions is a necessary part of understanding your experience.

With awareness of our emotional experience comes the opportunity to intentionally seek comfort as a way of creating safety and compassion towards our emotional experience. Exploring all five of your senses – taste, touch, sight, sound, or smell – can help you identify what brings you comfort. We can practice mindfulness in being present with the comforting sensation to notice what the clean/organized room around us looks like or fully smell the lavender scented candle that provides comfort through a positive memory in a lavender field.

Whether it’s reading a book, listening to music, cuddling your favorite blanket, preparing a special snack or taking a leisurely walk in nature – self-soothing activities are unique for everyone and can bring us back into balance when things start to feel chaotic through grounding in sensory comfort.

Self-soothing with comforting sensory activities

Taking time to engage in sensory comfort activities can be incredibly helpful when it comes to self-soothing and finding moments of peace. Self-care is often underrated, but it’s truly a powerful way to take some time out of your day and focus on you.

Listening to calming music, taking a hot bath, cuddling with a soft blanket, burning candles, or playing with Play-Doh are just some examples of how you can use your senses to foster feelings of relaxation. It’s important that you give yourself permission to make these activities part of your regular routine. Allow yourself the opportunity to reclaim your power and set aside moments for yourself each day.

It can be helpful to begin with noticing various sensory experiences that you like or are drawn to and explore whether you can use these senses to create comfort when experiencing emotional distress. It can feel more tolerable to our emotional selves to feel both comforted by music and deeply sad about a relationship break-up at the same time.

Examples of Self-Soothing Activities with the Five Senses:

Vision – Read a book, look at the stars at night, look at pictures of animals or loved ones, light a candle and watch the flame, organize/clean your room.

Hearing – Close your eyes and focus on the sounds around you, listen to comforting music, hum a tune, sing a song, listen to rain sounds.

Smell – Light a candle with a comforting sense, smell flowers, bake cookies or cook dinner, find a comforting smell connected with a positive memory and use that smell to transport to positive experience from the past. Explore various scented candles that could be comforting to you at Earthgifts!

Taste – mindfully eat a childhood comfort food, drink your favorite tea or coffee, eat a peppermint candy.

Touch – take a hot bath or shower, pet/cuddle with an animal, hug someone, wrap self in a cozy blanket or sweater, put clean sheets on your bed, or get a massage.

Integrate intentional self-soothing into your daily life

Self-soothing can be a powerful tool in finding control during times of emotional distress. From finding a quiet place to sit with your thoughts and mindfulness practices, to understanding what kind of self-care will actually make you feel better, finding awareness of the emotional needs that often go hand-in-hand with stress and anxiety can lead to finding self-calming habits and tools over time.

While it’s easy to rush to distractions when we find ourselves feeling overwhelmed, finding ways to build skills like deep breathing exercises and connecting with validating behaviors that provide us comfort can help us develop strategies for staying grounded when experiencing emotional distress.

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by intense emotions from time to time. However, there are ways that you can cope with these feelings so that they don’t spiral out of control. Learning how to self-soothe is a valuable skill that everyone can benefit anyone. By incorporating sensory comfort activities into your life, you can create a habit of calming yourself down when you’re feeling distressed.

What works for one person may not work for another, so experiment until you find what brings YOU soothing sensory comfort and relief from suffering. Then, make sure to integrate self-soothing into your daily routine so that it become second nature to turn to it during tough times. With practice, self-soothing can help you better tolerate difficult emotions without becoming consumed by them.

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