Living with anxiety can feel overwhelming and exhausting. The racing thoughts, the tightness in your chest, the constant worry, the cognitive distortions —it can be challenging to find moments of peace amidst the chaos. Fortunately, there are self-soothing techniques that can provide relief and help you navigate through anxious moments with greater ease.
In this blog post, we will explore 12 effective self-soothing techniques specifically designed to alleviate anxiety. These techniques are accessible, practical, and can be incorporated into your daily routine. By implementing these strategies, you can cultivate a sense of calm, regain control over your emotions, and enhance your overall well-being.
Remember, self-soothing is not about eliminating anxiety entirely but rather finding ways to navigate it more gracefully. So, let’s embark on this journey together and explore 12 self-soothing techniques that can empower you to reclaim control over your anxiety and bring more peace into your life.
- Self-soothe box
- Soothing imagery
- Soothing music
- Shake it out
- Breathing exercises
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Grounding techniques
1. Self-soothe box
A self-soothe box is a collection of personally meaningful items that bring comfort and relaxation. It’s a tool for self-care and self-soothing, especially during times of stress, and anxiety, or when you need a moment of calm. Here are some steps to create your own self-soothe box:
- Choose a box: Find a box or container that you can dedicate to your self-soothe items. It can be a small decorative box, a basket, or any container that you find appealing and easy to access.
- Select comforting items: Fill your box with items that bring you comfort, relaxation, and joy. Everyone’s preferences are unique, but here are some ideas:
- Scented candles or essential oils: Choose fragrances that you find calming or uplifting.
- Soft and cosy items: Include a soft blanket, a plush toy, or a comforting piece of fabric.A journal and pen: Writing can be a therapeutic outlet for processing emotions and thoughts
- Calming music: Include headphones or a small portable speaker to remind you of the power of music in soothing you.
- Photos or objects that hold sentimental value: Select items that bring happy memories or evoke positive emotions.
- Stress balls or fidget toys: These can provide tactile stimulation and help redirect anxious energy.
- Inspirational quotes or affirmations: Print or write down words that inspire and uplift you.
- Relaxing activities: include any activity that helps you relax, such as colouring books, puzzle books, jigsaw puzzles, etc.
- Tea bags: Choose your favourite calming or soothing blends.
- Bath salts: A relaxing soak can be a perfect way to reduce your anxiety and calm down the nervous system
- Personalize: Tailor your self-soothe box to your specific needs and preferences. Add any other items that you find personally comforting, such as books, puzzles, art supplies, or anything that helps you relax and find solace.
- Keep it accessible: Place your self-soothe box in a location that is easily accessible when you need it.
- Use it mindfully: When you feel stressed, anxious, or in need of self-care, take a moment to open your self-soothe box. Engage with the items mindfully, allowing yourself to fully immerse in the comfort and relaxation they provide. Take deep breaths and create a soothing environment for yourself.
Remember, a self-soothe box is a personal tool that should be customized to your preferences and needs. Feel free to experiment and add or remove items as you discover what brings you the most comfort and relaxation.
For further guidance on how to create your own kit, visit the charity Young Minds’ website.
2. Soothing imagery
Imagery can be a powerful tool to soothe anxiety and promote relaxation. It involves using your imagination to create vivid mental images that evoke calmness and tranquillity. Here are some imagery techniques that you can try to soothe anxiety:
- Guided visualization: Close your eyes and imagine yourself in a peaceful and serene environment. It could be a beach, a forest, a meadow, or any place that brings you a sense of calm. Visualize the details of the surroundings—the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations. Engage your senses and allow yourself to fully immerse in the experience.
- Safe place imagery: Create an imaginary haven in your mind that you can go to any time you want. It could be a cosy room, a quiet garden, or any space where you feel protected and secure. Visualize this place in detail, including the colours, textures, and objects present. Spend time exploring this safe place mentally whenever you need to find comfort and relief from anxiety.
- Colour imagery: Choose a colour that represents calmness to you, such as blue or green. Close your eyes and imagine surrounding yourself with that colour. Visualize it enveloping you, bringing a sense of tranquillity and relaxation. Focus on the colour and its soothing effect on your mind and body.
- Cloud watching: Imagine lying down on a soft patch of grass on a sunny day, looking up at the sky. Visualize fluffy white clouds slowly drifting by. Watch as they change shape and transform, taking away your worries and anxieties with them.
- Ocean waves: Picture yourself sitting on a peaceful beach, feeling the warm sand beneath you. Visualize the rhythmic ebb and flow of gentle ocean waves. Hear the soothing sound of the waves crashing on the shore, creating a sense of relaxation and serenity.
- Candle flame: Envision sitting in a dimly lit room with a calming scented candle in front of you. Focus on the gentle flickering of the candle flame. Watch its dance, feeling a sense of tranquillity and inner stillness as you let go of tension and anxiety with each flicker.
- Floating on a lake: Imagine yourself lying on your back in a peaceful lake. Visualize the gentle ripples in the water as you float weightlessly. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face and the coolness of the water beneath you. Allow any tension or anxiety to dissolve as you surrender to the calming embrace of the lake.
3. Soothing music
Research has shown that music listening can have a significant effect on alleviating anxiety (Harney et al., 2022; de Witte et al., 2019). It has been related to reduced physiological markers of anxiety, such as heart rate and blood pressure (de Witte et al., 2019), and the modification of the stress response, through reduced cortisol (Finn & Fancourt, 2018).
The type of music that can help reduce anxiety varies from person to person, as everyone has different preferences and responses to different genres. However, there are a few general guidelines to consider when selecting music to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety:
- Calming and slow tempo: Look for music with a slow tempo, as it can help slow down your heart rate and induce a sense of calm.
- Instrumental or ambient music: Instrumental music or ambient sounds without lyrics can be particularly effective for relaxation. Without lyrics to focus on, your mind is free to drift and relax without distraction. Genres such as classical, ambient, instrumental, nature sounds, or meditation music are worth exploring.
- Nature sounds: The sounds of nature, such as gentle rain, ocean waves, or birdsong, can be soothing and help create a peaceful atmosphere.
- Personal preferences: Ultimately, it’s important to choose music that you find calming and enjoyable. Your preferences and emotional connection to the music can greatly enhance its effectiveness in reducing anxiety.
Aromatherapy is a holistic healing practice that uses aromatic essential oils derived from plants to promote physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Both aromatherapy through inhalation and massage have been shown effective to reduce anxiety (Lee et al., 2011; Fellowes, Barnes and Wilkinson, 2004).
Gong et al. (2020) explain that “the possible mechanism of inhalation aromatherapy is that essential oils may communicate signals to the olfactory system and stimulate the brain to secrete neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. These agents further alleviate psychiatric disorders”. The researchers add that lavender, rose, lemon, bergamot oil and citrus extracted from plants are usually used as essential oils in aromatherapy.
Tapping, also known as Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) or “tapping therapy,” is a therapeutic technique that combines elements of traditional Chinese acupressure and modern psychology. Based on the premise that unpleasant emotions are the result of disruptions in the body’s energy system, the technique involves tapping on specific points on the body, typically with the fingertips, to release unpleasant emotions (Boath, A. Keith Stewart and Carryer, 2012).
How does it work?
- Identifying and rating the issue: Begin by identifying a specific issue or problem that you want to address, such as anxiety, stress, or a specific emotional concern. Rate the emotion before doing the exercise on a scale of 0 to 10 to monitor any changes.
- Setup statement: Create a setup statement that acknowledges the issue while accepting and loving yourself. For example, “Even though I feel anxious, I deeply and completely accept myself.”
- Tapping points: Tapping points are specific acupressure points on the body that are stimulated by tapping with your fingertips. The main points used in EFT are located on the head, face, upper body, and hands. These points include the top of the head, eyebrow, side of the eye, under the eye, under the nose, chin, collarbone, under the arm, and the karate chop point on the side of the hand.
- Tapping sequence: While focusing on the issue, tap each of the designated points about 5-7 times using a moderate amount of pressure. As you tap, you can repeat a reminder phrase related to the issue, such as “this anxiety” or “this stress.” The reminder phrase helps keep the issue in mind while tapping on the different points. It serves as a mental anchor to keep your attention on the problem.
- Reassessment: After completing a tapping round, take a moment to assess your subjective level of distress or anxiety. You can rate it on a scale of 0 to 10 to assess changes before and after tapping.
- Repeat and refine: If necessary, repeat the tapping sequence, adjusting the reminder phrase and focusing on specific aspects of the issue as you continue tapping.
6. Shake it out
“Shake it out” is a technique that involves using physical movements, such as shaking or vibrating your body, to release tension and reduce anxiety. Here’s how you can practice shaking out anxiety:
- Stand or sit in a comfortable position: Stand with your feet hip-width apart or sit in a comfortable chair, whichever feels more natural to you. Allow your body to relax and find a posture that allows for free movement.
- Take deep breaths: Begin by taking a few deep breaths to help calm your mind and prepare your body. Inhale deeply through your nose, filling your lungs with air, and exhale slowly through your mouth, releasing any tension as you breathe out.
- Start shaking: Begin shaking your body gently, starting from your hands and gradually moving up through your arms, shoulders, torso, hips, legs, and feet. Allow the shaking to be loose and relaxed, as if you were shaking off water droplets. Let the movements be natural and fluid, without forcing or straining.
- Focus on the sensations: As you shake, pay attention to the sensations in your body. Notice the vibrations, the movement of your muscles, and the release of tension. Allow yourself to fully experience the physical sensations and let go of any thoughts or worries.
- Shake for a few minutes: Continue shaking for a few minutes or until you feel a sense of release and relaxation. Trust your intuition and listen to your body. If you feel like shaking for a longer or shorter duration, adjust accordingly.
- Gradual slow down: When you’re ready to stop shaking, gradually slow down the movements. Take a few deep breaths and allow your body to come to a stillness. Observe how you feel after the shaking session, noticing any changes in your body and mind.
RAIN is a self-compassion and mindfulness practice developed by Tara Brach, a renowned meditation teacher and psychologist. The acronym RAIN stands for Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture, outlining the key steps involved in the practice.
To practice the “RAIN” technique, which is a mindfulness-based approach to working with difficult emotions or challenging experiences, you can follow these steps:
- Recognize: Begin by recognizing and acknowledging the difficult emotion or experience that is present. Take a moment to pause and bring your attention to what you are feeling without judgment.
- Allow: Allow the difficult emotion to be present without trying to push it away or change it. Create space for the emotion to exist and acknowledge its validity. Practice acceptance and non-resistance towards the experience.
- Investigate: Gently investigate the difficult emotion or experience with curiosity and kindness. Direct your attention inward and explore the sensations, thoughts, and beliefs associated with the emotion. Notice where you feel it in your body and observe any accompanying thoughts or narratives.
- Nurture: Nurture yourself with self-compassion and care. Offer yourself kindness and understanding in the face of the difficult emotion. You can use soothing words or gestures to comfort and support yourself during this process.
By practising RAIN, you develop a greater understanding of your inner experiences, cultivate a sense of presence and acceptance, and help to cultivate your self-soothing system. Visit the “The Practice of RAIN” video for a guided meditation following the steps of RAIN.
8. Breathing exercises
Breathing exercises can be effective in reducing anxiety by activating the body’s relaxation response and helping to regulate the nervous system. When we experience anxiety, our body’s stress response, also known as the “fight-or-flight” response, is triggered. This response is associated with increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and heightened arousal. Deep breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing, help activate the body’s relaxation response, which counteracts the stress response and promotes a sense of calm and relaxation.
Furthermore, deep, slow breaths during breathing exercises increase the intake of oxygen into the body. This helps to improve the oxygenation of the blood and enhance blood flow throughout the body, including to the brain. Sufficient oxygen supply to the brain is crucial for optimal functioning and can help alleviate anxiety symptoms.
Another reason to learn how to breathe is that by engaging in slow, controlled breathing, particularly focusing on extending the exhale, you can activate the parasympathetic branch of the ANS. This branch is responsible for promoting relaxation, lowering heart rate, and reducing anxiety.
There are many types of breathing work for reducing anxiety but, overall, you should look at extending your exhales. To make it simple, our suggested breathing techniques are:
- Two inhales, one long exhale (type of breathing recommended by the neuroscientist Andrew Huberman)
- Box breathing
- 4-7-8 breathing technique
In this article, you can learn the different types of breathing techniques.
9. Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that involves systematically tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body to promote physical and mental relaxation. Here’s how it works:
- Find a quiet environment and start with deep breathing: Begin by finding a quiet space where you can comfortably lie down or sit in a relaxed position. Begin by taking a few slow, deep breaths to help relax your body and calm your mind. Breathe in deeply through your nose, hold your breath for a moment, and then exhale slowly through your mouth.
- Muscle tensing: Start with a specific muscle group, such as your hands or forearms. Tense the muscles in that area as tightly as you can without causing discomfort. Hold the tension for a few seconds, paying attention to the sensation of tightness in the muscles.
- Release and relaxation: After holding the tension, release the muscles and let go completely. Pay attention to the contrasting sensation of relaxation and relief as the muscles unwind. Focus on the feeling of warmth and relaxation in the relaxed muscle group.
- Progress through muscle groups: Move systematically through different muscle groups in your body, progressing from your hands and forearms to your upper arms, shoulders, neck, face, chest, abdomen, buttocks, thighs, calves, and feet. Tense each muscle group for a few seconds before releasing and relaxing.
- Practice mindfulness: Throughout the exercise, maintain a mindful awareness of your body and the sensations you’re experiencing. Notice any thoughts or distractions that arise and gently guide your focus back to muscle relaxation.
- Gradual progression: Repeat the process a few times, gradually increasing the duration of muscle tensing and relaxation. You can aim for a total relaxation session of around 15-20 minutes.
If it is easier, you can find guided progressive muscle relaxation videos that can show you how to do this effectively.
10. Grounding techniques
Grounding techniques can be effective in reducing anxiety by helping individuals reconnect with the present moment and their immediate surroundings. These techniques aim to shift focus away from anxious thoughts and bring attention to the present sensory experience.
These techniques can help you take back control when feeling overwhelmed by focusing on the five senses and using mindful practices. In this article, we teach you some grounding techniques you can use anytime anywhere.
Meditation activates the relaxation response in the body, which counteracts the stress response associated with anxiety. Through deep breathing, focused attention, and relaxation techniques, meditation helps relax the muscles, slows down the heart rate, and reduces blood pressure.
When you start meditating, is always a good idea to listen to a guided meditation. You can start by using an app (Headspace, Balance, Waking Up, Calm, etc.), or a guided meditation from YouTube (type “meditation” and you will find many options). Once you are comfortable practising the different types of meditation, you can practice on your own, if you prefer.
Self-hypnosis is a technique that allows individuals to induce a state of focused relaxation and heightened suggestibility within themselves. It involves using self-guided suggestions or visualizations to promote positive changes in thoughts, behaviours, or emotions. Previous studies have shown its effectiveness in reducing anxiety (Benson et al., 1978; Stanton, 1994; O’Neill, Barnier and McConkey, 1999).
If you want to start benefiting from this tool, you should know Michael Sealey, a certified hypnotherapist and owner of a popular YouTube channel where you can find a variety of guided self-hypnosis videos.
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