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Section 8 - Self-Soothing with Five Senses

Learning Center - DBT Therapy Training

Self-Soothing With Your Five Senses

Self-Soothing is a tool to take care of yourself in a rush. It's a great way to make yourself feel good in the face of a very difficult situation. This tool is fairly straightforward, though it's sometimes hard to remember to do it. In fact, it's so simple that you may laugh and think it won't work.

The most common challenge is when we feel like we should be punished, it's a real stretch for us to do nice things for ourselves. In the end, though, punishment makes us feel guilty about something we can't change: the past. When we're in the midst of a painful situation, the most effective thing we can do is get in a state of mind, where we can fix, get through or accept the situation. Doing something nice and caring for yourself can help you get to wise-mind. Focus on achieving wise mind, and help yourself unlearn the self-blaming, self-punishment mindset.

Comfort Yourself With Each of Your Five Senses

When self-soothing, think of all your five senses, and try to make yourself feel better by stimulating them in pleasing ways. We can't always take care of all our senses, but depending on the situation, focus on as many as you're able. Here are some ideas, you'll have to figure out for yourself what works for you:



What do you find calming and enjoyable visually? Do nature scenes calm you down? Does watching a fish tank, fireplace, the ocean or even clothes spinning in the dryer help you move to wise mind? How about looking at the clouds or stars in the sky? If you're in a lengthy crisis, you may be able to go to the ocean, a park or a wooded area and look at the scenery. If you're in the middle of an argument with someone, take a brief moment and look at the sky, look at the wind rustling the leaves on a tree. Inside look at a nice picture on the wall, or if you're wearing some jewelry or clothing that you find pleasing, glance at them.

What are three things you enjoy looking at?



What do you like to listen to? Do you find nature sounds enjoyable, the sound of children playing, great music? If this is a lengthy crisis, go listen to some music at home, in your car, at a concert. Go to a playground and listen to the kids laughing. During short crises, take a moment and listen to the background. Can you hear the wind, music, kids playing off in the distance?

Name three sounds that you enjoy?



Smell is interesting for me. It's one that has a huge impact, but that I often forget about. Do you have a perfume or cologne that you enjoy? Wear it, spray it in the air and let yourself enjoy the scent. Try and keep a small vial of it with you in your purse, car or pocket and take it out when you could use a boost. I've also found a lot of aroma therapy oils fairly inexpensively. Find a scent that works for you, and try to keep it close. If you're in a tight situation, and have worn the perfume or cologne, smell the air and see if you can isolate the scent.

Name three scents that help calm you down?



This one can be a bit tricky for people with eating disorders. Historically a lot of emotion is wrapped up with food in my family and with many people. Find a simple, small way to stimulate your taste buds. We're not talking about binge eating, or even necessarily a full meal or snack. Try something small and simple. Find a mint or brand of chewing gum that you enjoy and keep it handy. Even during the most explosive confrontations, you may be able to pop a mint in your mouth and take a brief moment to savor the flavor.

Identify three small things you could use to stimulate your tastebuds?



If you have the time, try soaking in a warm bath or spa. Get a massage or ask a friend to rub your shoulders. My father used very wide pens. He'd pull it out of his pocket and roll it around each finger several times to comfort himself. I've heard people taking a small swatch of suede, silk or velvet and keeping that in their wallet when they need to feel something nice in a pinch.

What three things physically feel good to you?

Come Up With Ideas Before You Need Them

Experiment a bit. Think about some things that you find physically enjoyable for each of your five senses. Think about what you could do if you had a few hours or a few days in the midst of a crisis. Identify things you can do or keep with you to use in the middle of a confrontation or heated argument. Prepare yourself to use them.

Make Up a List or Even a Self-Soothing Kit

For those longer time frame things, jot them down on that note card or printed cheat sheet and keep them handy. When things feel too hot to handle, pull out the cheat sheet and start taking care of yourself. Maybe even prepare a self-soothing kit, with a picture of the sunset, a small loaded mp3 player, a vial of perfume, some mints, a swatch of silk. Put it in your car, your purse, your pocket, your office desk. Make it easy to get when you need it the most.


Fill in the boxes above, or jot down three things that you think would be soothing for you, and prioritize them like we did in the previous section on ACCEPTS.

Practice Assignment

Create a self-soothing kit. It could be as simple as a small swatch of soothing fabric you keep in your pocket, or it could be a bit more involved. Whatever you decide, try to keep at least one comforting item with you at all times, and reach for it if you need to give yourself a little TLC.

Add these skills to your journal entries each night. If the Journal is overwhelming or feeling like a chore, go to once or twice a week. Keep it simple and quick, your goal should be to just keep track of your moods and the skills you've been able to use.

As a useful reference, you may wish to check out the Crisis Survival Cheat Sheet.

When you're ready to move on go to: Section 9 - Improve the Moment.


0 #2 Guest 2013-10-18 14:10
This is entirely new to me,but I have a
feeling it will be very good for me.
0 #1 Val 2011-04-03 06:58
I have been practicing self-soothing with my senses for about 10 years now. It has worked wonderfully. I am going back to read more of this site!! I am excited to find you =)Val from Joy in the Rain


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