Self-soothing involves life’s simple pleasures: listening to music, taking a walk, sinking into a warm bath. It is the simplest of the distress tolerance skills taught in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which has a long history of clinical effectiveness. Relaxing and soothing yourself gives you a chance to rest and recover from stress. In addition, feelings of relaxation and enjoyment become a benchmark of serenity and a point of comparison that will help you recognize more stressful periods in your life. Finally, self-soothing and relaxation are healthy coping strategies because they involve nondamaging pleasure.
Self-soothing provides an alternative to habitual, ineffective ways of reacting to painful emotions such as depression or anxiety. It expands your adaptive repertoire to include new and varied activities that serve as positive coping strategies you can use instead of the negative coping strategy of avoidance.
There are some times when self soothing is not a good idea. For example, you should not self-soothe to avoid the arrival of a painful emotion. Let’s say a good friend has announced that she’s moving away to a distant city. Every time you even start thinking about her, you suppress your feelings of loss and grief by playing your guitar or watching a video. This is an inappropriate use of self-soothing because it’s an attempt to avoid fully experiencing normal feelings of loss and grief.
In addition you should not self soothe in place of an appropriate emotional response. If you’re angry about being passed over for a promotion at work, an appropriate response might be using that anger as motivation to dust off your résumé and inquire about openings in other departments. If you respond to the first twinge of anger by heading to the break room for a pastry, you might not get around to planning a positive, active response.
Also, don’t self-soothe in a way that interferes with valued or necessary experiences. For example, if you want to help your daughter with her homework, but every evening you turn on the TV instead, that form of self-soothing is keeping you from an important opportunity to bond with and help your child