Monday, 16 April 2012

Distress Tolerance SELF SOOTHE Ideas

Distress.  It is impossible to avoid, no matter how charmed your life may be.  Emotional pain and distress are an inevitable part of life. Yeah, I was annoyed when I heard that first too. But even the Duchess of Cambridge has crap to deal with!  The inability to learn how to effectively cope with intense emotion and distress only leads to increased suffering. I found that using my senses to soothe my distress really helped me to tolerate the emotions which were troubling me, without having to use other people as that crutch to stabilize me.

The goal with self-soothing skills is to comfort yourself emotionally by doing things that are sensually pleasant and, most especially, not harmful. At the same time, focusing your full attention on sensory inputs — on what you are physically experiencing in the moment (mindfulness) usually will get people outside of their own heads (and away from troubling thoughts, feelings, and impulses).
Learning to relax and self-soothe is crucial to healthy emotional functioning.  When you are relaxed, your body is not in a constant state of “emergency,” preparing to fight or run away at any given moment.  Most importantly, your brain is much more capable of coming up with healthy ways of coping with distress when physically relaxed.

I find that having a self-soothe ‘box’ is my saving grace, having it ready and stocked with all the things that I know work for me. What works for me also changes depending on the emotion, for example when I am upset, hugging a teddy is a fantastic, yet when I am angry, having a long hot shower nearly always helps me calm down.

Recently I was brainstorming some new ideas for my box, I asked some wonderful friends in a DBT support group on facebook, and found that it was the best thing I could ever have done! Between us we came up with a list which can be used as a reference when trying to think of something to RELAX AND SELF SOOTHE when undergoing extreme distress.

The skills and techniques listed below are a starting point only. Everyone has to find what works for them, and it may even be things that are not on this list at all, but if you are stuck, try some and see if they work. A good way to orientate yourself to self soothe is to really and mindfully focus on your senses while using these. Not all these things fit into my 'box' but that's why I am writing this post, so I can look at it when I am in distress.

RELAX and SELF SOOTHE ideas! (Please feel free to add ideas in the comments, this list is a work in progress!)
  • Try something little to begin with, such as using a nice moisturizer on your hands and face after you wash them, also face and hair masks are bliss. I've been trying to do this for the past few weeks and not only does it help me to feel as if I am WORTH looking after, it has also dramatically improved my skin tone etc... (Life worth living!)
  • Curl up with a blanket wrapped around you and a teddy bear. This is great for when I'm feeling little and afraid or upset and tearful. I like lavender filled wheat bags, heated in the microwave and placed on my neck.... I do this regularly when I write! 
  • Watch a favorite movie (that way you can zone out and don't have to concentrate) Something mindless or funny is even better! My personal choices are; Pride and Prejudice, Shrek, Beauty and the Best, Emma, Actually..... any of the period dramas! I love the dresses!
  • When was the last time you took a moment to gaze at the ocean and just watch and listen to the waves hit the shore?  It can be a wonderfully mesmerizing and stress relieving experience.  How about watching an exquisite sunset, or the leaves on a tree blowing in the wind?  These experiences are natural stress relievers and can provide wonderful moments of tranquility.
  • Do you have a favorite piece of clothing to wear, something you instantly feel safe and comforted when you put it on? I have a pair of old baggy battered velvet purple pajama bottoms. They are so old and raggity, but I can't get rid of them! And I like to wash them in a nice smelling washing powder that my Mom used to use.
  • Candles are relaxing and scented candles are truly a plus.  Most people enjoy the soothing benefits of soft candle light combined with the pleasing scents that aromatherapy candles can provide. I personally love Yankee candles as they are strong and are inexpensive. I have a fireplace in my room which cannot be lit anymore, but I fill it with candles and have a little meditation session when I am stressed, always works a treat!
  • The best way to self sooth myself, I find during extremely intense emotional experiences is to retreat to my bedroom, and put on a tried and trusted self compassion relaxation. It was introduced to me by the wonderful Amanda Smith from Hope for DBT.  Here is the link for the 15 min meditation; 
  • I find that art and crafts has a very soothing effect on me, and while I was inpatient I learned about mandalas, which are a form of meditative art, although they have a spiritual aspect to them, I find simply coloring in the patterns so relaxing and creative. Here is a link to a site where you can download and print out some to have ready for when you need them.
Website for Mandalas
  • Photography forces me into the present, I have to be mindful to my surroundings and almost get a sense of external perspective through the camera lens. So if I feel the urge to binge.... I grab my ready packed camera pack and head outside and snap away! Even looking at happy memories through old pictures helps me too, like of the time I went traveling, or my 21st party.
  • As I suffer from an eating disorder, using my sense of taste can be hard, but I have bought some lollipops to suck when I am angry as for some reason they help! I also find going out for a hot milky drink soothing, I have hot chocolate since I gave up caffeine last month, especially from Starbucks!
  • Music is my lifeline, always has been ever since I realized that I can use my voice to express my emotions when words fail me. I love to sing and play guitar. Classical music are art to me, so I have few pieces which always help me calm down, especially during exam stress or when I was grieving a loss. I have made a playlist on youtube, which I am not going to post on here because everyone has different tastes, but I will post a song, which I feel describes how important it is to validate your emotion.

  • Finally, a good old fashioned hot bath or long hot shower will always bring me back to the present, relax my body and calm my mind

For a very good alternative explanation of SELF SOOTH go to , This site is my online bible!


  1. There is a lot to be said for self soothing techniques.
    Once the borderline diagnosis is thrown at us and we engage in DBT we are taught amazing and rare life skills.
    Frustratingly, these skills are appropriate for anyone.
    I often feel grateful that I have had to "regenerate" skills to cope.
    The link between a baby needing to be taught to self soothe and patients with BPD needing the same, is to me, a little of a myth.
    All of us need an outlet, a means of coping, engaging, and being mindful, regardless of our walk of life <3

    Sounds like you are working very hard and for that you should be proud.
    You will emerge from this a thousand times more fabulous than you already are, of that I am sure <3

    1. Hey Rache,
      I agree with you about DBT skills really being useful to anyone and everyone who struggles with their emotions. Self soothe was the hardest skill for me to grasp as I felt like I didn't deserve to treat myself with kindness, now I know I just HAVE to do to stay regulated.
      I like to put of photos of myself as a child and imagine that I am soothing a wee me, chubby cheeks and all, we all have that need, that drive to feel comforted to some degree, and I feel using the image of a child can make this a little easier to actually do.
      Thanks for your continued support, I hope and aim to reach a place in my recovery equal to yours.