8 Self-Soothing Habits to Try in the New Year

By their very nature, negative thoughts can easily run wild and take over our lives. Something nasty someone did in the past can sit right next to worries about finances, future career moves, or our long-term health. It can be difficult to take your mind off the situation if something stressful is going on. You may lose sleep or find yourself distracted during the day. That’s where the practice of self-soothing can help.

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Self-soothing is any relaxing practice to move away from negative thinking and help us feel better. Examples can be breathing exercisesplaying exciting music, taking up hobbies with attention like yoga or connecting with others.

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One study looked at oxytocin release and self-soothing behavior. Oxytocin, a natural feel-good and anti-stress hormone, is released in the brain by a series of low-intensity stimulating behaviors such as touching and caressing, but it can also be released by pleasant situations in general. Self-soothing is the release of feel-good hormones by consciously choosing pleasurable activities.

For more mental health tips, check out how gratitude improves your mental health and Tips for coping with holiday depression.

Below are eight ways to practice self-soothing techniques to lift your spirits and de-stress.

8 self-soothing techniques you should start using today

Next time you’re feeling stressed or anxious, try using one of our favorite self-calming techniques.

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Make good use of your breathing

Try some breathing techniques to help you focus away from negative thoughts. Deep breathing and more breathing exercises it can help us move away from negative thinking and increase feelings of relaxation. Some calming techniques that use breathing include:

Diaphragmatic breathing: This exercise helps us use the diaphragm to increase deep breathing. The diaphragm is a muscle below the lungs, and using it to breathe properly is associated with lower blood pressure and heart rate while improving relaxation, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

To practice diaphragmatic breathing:

1. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent or propped up on a pillow. Also, keep your head supported. You can also do this sitting down.

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2. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your chest.

3. Breathe in through your nose as deeply as you can. You should feel your stomach rise or expand, while the hand on your chest should remain fairly still.

4. Exhale through your mouth, exhaling completely. Make sure your hand on your chest remains as still as you can.

5. Repeat for as long as you feel is necessary to feel relaxed or as long as you have time.

Woman doing breathing exercises.

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Square breathing: Another method is square breathing, which relies on counting to focus your thoughts and reap the relaxation benefits of slow breathing. With this method, simply exhale completely. Then slowly inhale through the nose, while counting to four. Hold that breath, counting to four again. Exhale for a count of four through your mouth, then hold your breath again for a count of four. Repeat for the length of the exercise.

Breathing with pursed lips: Another popular breathing technique is pursed-lip breathing. This technique forces you to put more effort into your breathing, thereby slowing down your breathing and helping you focus only on your breath. To perform this technique, begin by exhaling fully, then inhale twice through the nose. Bend or curl your lips as if you were whistling. Then slowly exhale to the count of four. Repeat as long as is comfortable or necessary.

If you have chronic or temporary nasal congestion, feel free to breathe through your mouth when the instructions call for breathing through your nose.

Practice the 5-4-3-2-1 technique

This is a coping mechanism for anxiety. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, the method relies on grounding yourself in the present so you can focus on something other than anxious thoughts. It requires you to recognize things in your immediate environment. To perform the exercise, use the following steps:

5: Recognize five objects you can see around you. This can be anything from a floor to ceiling fan.

4: Acknowledge four things around you that you can touch, such as hair or the ground.

3: Recognize three things around you that you can hear, such as air coming through the furnace vent or a bird outside.

2: Recognize two things that you can smell, such as some hand lotion or you can even check how the pillow in your bedroom smells.

1: Acknowledge one thing you can taste, such as the lingering taste of food from lunch or the minty taste of brushing your teeth.

Use your inner dialogue for self-affirmation

This is also called positive self-talk. We can easily fall into negative self-talk, which can include anything from mentally beating ourselves up about perceived mistakes to worrying about the negative judgments others might have. Positive self-talk redirects these thoughts into a more positive mindset.

Finding a good set of self-talk lines is a very personal experience. You’ll usually have to deal with certain insecurities or find phrases that resonate with you. The practice of self-talk usually involves the subversion of negative thoughts that make you feel low. For example, instead of thinking about how embarrassed you are, remind yourself that you took a chance and were brave enough to try.

For starters, some common and general positive self-talk phrases include:

“I can do it.”

“I’m good enough.”

“I can try again if I make a mistake.

“I’m putting in the best effort I can.”

“I’m doing my best.

Try looking up positive self-talk phrases and see which ones resonate with you. One or two might jump out at you, and you might try leaning on them to see how they make you feel. Try as many as you need to see which sticks. Consider working with a therapist to reduce negative self-talk and work on phrases tailored to your situation.

Change the environment

Sometimes something in our environment can knock us down. It could be as simple as getting less daylight during the winter, so you could look into bulbs that mimic natural sunlight.

Sometimes, if we expose ourselves to too much negative media, it can turn our overall outlook towards the negative. During the COVID-19 pandemic, one study found that media exposure to COVID-19 news was associated with anxiety and subjective levels of loneliness. You don’t need to completely cut out all stressful media, but it can be helpful to regulate how much you consume in a week or use tools that manage media exposure, like apps that help you limit your time on social media.

You may also work on changing your immediate environment. Paint the walls again soothing tonesredesign your home with more exciting and colorful decor or even just tidying up your room it can make a big difference. Play around to see which decor options lift your mood.

Create a playlist

Music can help lift our mood. You’ve probably experienced the joy of hanging out with your favorite music firsthand. Create a playlist of all your feel-good favorites.

Don’t forget to branch out and try new genres, songs and artists. You might find your new favorite song that never fails to lift your spirits. Creating a playlist of all new songs can also orient you in the present moment instead of listening to a song that reminds you of the past.

Hug someone (or yourself)

A woman in a white shirt is hugging on a pink background

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Above, we discussed how touch can help you release feel-good hormones. As such, try to physically connect with someone you care about. Hug them and even try to hug them.

Hugging may sound strange, but it can ease pain and improve your mood. To hug, wrap your arms around yourself in a way that feels most comfortable, rest your hands on your shoulders or upper arms, and squeeze for as long as you need. You can give yourself a tight hug if that’s what you need right now, or a softer, more calming hug.

Try gently stroking your shoulders or forearms to get a sense of touch. You can do this while cuddling or not.

Try a mindful hobby

You can also look for a hobby that orients you in the present moment or is related to calming practices. For example, anything that involves deep breathing can help add a sense of relaxation, such as meditation, yoga, qigong or tai chi. You can also try meditation apps.

Look for other hobbies that can add to the positive mood by getting outside, such as walking, gardening or cycling. These activities can be mindful, too, if you focus on the present moment as much as possible while doing them.

Write down your feelings

Finally, try writing down your feelings, which can help us deal with anxiety, depression and stress, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. You can try writing about how you feel and why, and writing about ways to help yourself feel better or solve problems.

You can also find many books or articles that help you write from a prompt. These often start as questions that you then answer. They are meant to help you think and often focus on self-growth. For example, some prompts ask you to describe your perfect day, ideal home, or goals for the future. Some tips even help you cope social anxiety. Try looking for anxiety-busting journal notifications.

Try some general journaling tips to help you focus on the positives in your life. A common reminder is “Today, I am thankful for…”

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified healthcare professional regarding any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or health goals.


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