ad You wouldn’t be alone in wondering what self-soothing is and what the difference is between that and self-care. It seems like a lot of these phrases have been coined over the last few years, with more and more people online talking about them. But the truth is, self-care and self-soothing have been around forever and today we’re going to look at how to self-soothe in times of stress.

How To Self-Soothe in Times of Stress

First of all, it’s important to understand the difference between the two:

What’s the difference between self-soothing and self-care?

Self-care is the phrase you’d have heard everyone and their Nan talk about. Self-care can refer to physical, emotional, mental, sexual or spiritual acts that can can help you build up resilience and and maintain a healthy body and mind.

Practicing self-care is important for us to ensure we fill our cups with healthy and mindful activities that are not detrimental to our overall health and well-being – in all areas of self-care.

Self-soothing is a different kettle of fish. We self-soothe when we’ve been exposed to extreme stress and is an emotional regulation strategy we use when we’ve been affected by something upsetting, frightening, stressful or traumatic.

Self-soothing helps our bodies reset after any of these difficult emotions. You will probably recognise soothing techniques in children – but it’s important to learn how to do it for yourself too.

How To Self-Soothe in Times of Stress

Why might we need learn how to self-soothe in times of stress?

Being an adult is difficult at the best of times but when bad things happen, it can quickly become difficult to function and we find ourselves feeling burnt-out or at worse, having a breakdown.

We need to be aware of what it means to self-soothe because unlike being a child, we might not have someone else to do it for us.

So knowing how to soothe ourselves when our nervous system is out of whack is a really handy tool to have. It can enable you to feel better emotionally faster and regulate our nervous systems back to a healthy level.

There are many things that might happen in order for us to need to self-soothe. It’d be impossible to name them all but having a panic attack, being in an accident, going through a bereavement or going through another trauma.

Are all self-soothing techniques healthy?

Absolutely not. There is a vast range of self-soothing techniques across the spectrum which range from very unhealthy to very healthy and everything in between.

It’s important to remember that not all techniques will work for everyone – similarly to how not all acts of self-care will work for everyone (having a bath isn’t going to relax you if you hate baths, right?) but there are definitely some things you’re going to want to avoid that feel like you’re soothing but likely only making the problem worse.

Common self-soothing behaviours might include over-eating, drinking too much alcohol, smoking – or even drugs. Which in the moment might feel good but aren’t beneficial in any way.

This “techniques” are easy to do. Which is why it’s important to learn healthy self-soothing techniques that you can perform on your own, so you’re not tempted to reach for any of the above.

How To Self-Soothe in Times of Stress

Let’s look at how to self-soothe in times of stress:

All the methods listed below and things that can be done entirely on your own – which is the whole point of this post.

We want to learn ways of self-soothing without the need of other people because you can’t always rely on other people to be there when you need to be soothed. 

Perhaps you can’t quite afford a therapist, you live by yourself or perhaps you have no friends that are available to help. This is where you need to be comfortable relying on yourself to bring you back. So let’s look at how to self-soothe in times of stress:

Give yourself a hug / physical touch

A study by Dreisoerner et al. (2021) found that receiving a hug from another person and giving yourself self-soothing touch (in this instance, one hand on your heart space, one hand on your abdomen) were equally effective at lowering stress levels.

So, you might be rolling your eyes at the idea of hugging yourself but actually, it can be very self-soothing. Nobody is going to see you – so you shouldn’t care about what it looks like. All that matters is how it feels.

Move around the blocked energy 

There are many ways to do this from simple stretches to a Yoga practice or even meditation. Whatever floats your boat and it can be incredibly soothing and beneficial.

I think we’re all privy to the fact that everything is energy, so it’s certainly not wishy-washy to think that the energy in your body is feeling blocked when you’ve been through something traumatic or scary – all your energy has gone to protecting yourself.

If you want to go one step further with this, you could even consider Reiki, visiting an energy healer or reflexology to see where the blocked energy is manifesting in the body.

Breathing exercises

If you’ve had a particularly anxiety-inducing experience and your nervous system is completely out of whack then there’s nothing much better that you can do than breathing exercises. Finding a breathing technique that calms and grounds you can be life-changing.

For me, Ujjayi breathing is an absolute miracle technique that grounds me probably more than anything else. I learned this technique through Yoga but I now use it in my every day life and in particular when I’m more anxious than usual – like if I’m waiting for a doctors appointment. Here’s a helpful video about Ujjayi breathing.

Change your environment – go outside if you can

Changing the environment from one that you feel stressed, anxious, nervous or unhappy in can be a really quick and easy way to self-soothe. It’s no secret that nature can do wonders for our mental health. Nature is our biggest teacher and the most wholesome and neutral source we have.

Changing your environment doesn’t have to mean going outside though. Sometimes, when we feel stressed or vulnerable, we want to be inside, in a warm, cosy and comforting space. We can curate our space to fit our needs when we’re trying to self-soothe with candles, blankets, plants and lighting, to name a few things!

There are some excellent options for indoor lights from Lights 4 Fun that could really aid in setting a more soothing scene. I chose these lovely fairy-lights, which you really can’t go wrong with, if you’re going for a cosy vibe.

I also chose the TruGlow Ivory LED Pillar Candles because they’re obviously a safer option and you can except up to 600 hours of light before the batteries run out. They give off a lovely warm glow and are quick and easy to put on when you want some cosiness in your environment.

Use a weighted blanket

Weighted blankets have been revolutionary in helping ease feelings of anxiety in so many people, so if you have one and you’re in need of self-soothing, it’s time to get the weighted blanket out. The pressure of a weighted blanket puts your nervous system into rest mode, so if you’re in a particularly heightened time of stress and anxiety, it might be a good idea to invest.

Get warm

Not only is this a basic act of self-care you shouldn’t overlook, it can also be very soothing. First there’s the act of taking the time to care for yourself in this simple but effective way and secondly, the warmth can help relax your muscles and calm down your nervous system.

Self massage with oils

This is a bit of a double-whammy because not only are we back to the point about self-touch being hugely beneficial in self-soothing but calming scents and aromas can add another element to the mix. Essential oils are great for this and there are some really affordable but high-quality essential oils on the market.


Finally, self-compassion. Easier said than done, I know. Remind yourself that whatever state you’re in, that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up and definitely don’t blame yourself. You might want to try some affirmations or mantras to help re-wire your brain in this way.

So the next time you’re body is in a fight or flight mode or your nervous system is shot due to an incident, consider the sort of things you’re doing in the aftermath and whether they are actually beneficial to you at this time.

Of course I’m always a huge advocate for self-care and I preach it like there’s no tomorrow sometimes but since doing my research on self-soothing, it’s really allowed me to consider whether in the past, I was doing what was best for my mind and body.

If you’ve just been triggered and had a panic attack, perhaps going for a run isn’t really what you need. Consider these ideas of how to self-soothe in times of stress next time.

Has there been a time where you’ve needed to self-soothe? What have you done to regulate your nervous system during that stressful time? Let me know.

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  1. Very good ideas! It is important to show ourselves compassion as we would to a very dear friend. I think being out in the fresh air is very important. The point you make about changing your environment is very good. A change of pace/place can help a lot. (I like the above commenter’s suggestion about having a cup of tea…always a comfort!)

  2. I have always wanted to try a weighted blanket. But we do have a set of blankets that we use that feel like weighted blankets, and I love curling up under them. I also have a fleece blanket that I love to cuddle in as well.

    These are some great tips for self-soothing. It’s important to know how to calm ones own self in times of stress.

  3. Enjoyed reading this post, a mix of self care and self soothing can really help in difficult times. I’m all about getting outside or relaxing hot baths. Thanks for the suggestions keep up the good posts

  4. These are great ways to self-soothe, and doing breathing exercises and going for a walk outside are things I currently do. Also, I’ve been wanting to get a weighted blanket, and that’s a good idea to give yourself a hug!

  5. Fantastic post Jenny. Wonderful! This goes hand in hand with a post I wrote a while back about self-soothing and how to tell the difference. I plan on updating it soon (formattin, images etc), and would LOVE to add a wee link to this if you’re okay with it.

  6. Self-soothing is something I’ve been trying to practice lately, instead of always reaching for external reassurance. Thank you for sharing Jenny 🙂 I like to write down how I’m feeling and work through my stress that way x

  7. Changing your environment is such a powerful way to abate stress. Just going outside for a 5-minute walk can do wonders!

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