Anxiety can be a real pain — both physically and mentally — and makes it hard to enjoy things. That's why it's important to understand certain self-soothing techniques in order to be prepared whenever anxiety overwhelms you.
The worst part about anxiety is that it turns your favorite activities into something you dread. Luckily, managing anxiety and stress is helpful when you know how to self-soothe.
What is self-soothing?
Our body self-soothes in times of trauma or stress. Self-soothing is essentially a hard reset on your body. It refreshes all of your bodily systems to help you regain homeostasis once again after experiencing extreme stress.
People will self-soothe when experiencing anxiety, stress or fear, but there are plenty of other reasons one may wish to practice it.
Self-soothing has multiple benefits including slowing impulsive urges, decreasing symptoms of anxiety, stress, and panic, and increasing the ability to tolerate pain or distress. Starting this early on in life can even help you sleep better.
Calming your anxiety comes in many forms, from prescribing medicine to meditation. But if you want to calm down without having to use medication, there are some ways to self-soothe.
15 Self-Soothing Techniques & Methods
1. Re-label what is happening.
During an anxiety or panic attack, or a particularly stressful situation, it's important to remind yourself where you are and how you got there.
Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of "Freeing Yourself from Anxiety", told WebMD that when anxiety and panic attack symptoms begin surfacing, it's best to tell yourself, "I’m having a panic attack, but it’s harmless, it’s temporary, and there’s nothing I need to do.”
Keep in mind that you are not dying — this is just your body going into fight-or-flight mode and this will pass.
2. Fact-check your thoughts.
Anxiety is your mind fixating on the worst-case scenarios and blocking out any reason you would normally have.
What you need to do is think about how all those worst-case scenarios won’t happen and tell yourself that you are okay. This will help you come up with rational ways to deal with those thoughts.
3. Breathe in and out.
Deep breathing for a minute or so helps you focus on something that you can control. Breathing helps you to clear your head, telling yourself to breathe in and out gets you into a routine, and it also helps you figure out what to do next without fearing anything.
4. Follow the 3-3-3 rule.
First, look around and name three things you can see. Then, name three sounds you can hear. Finally, move three parts of your body.
Some call this “grounding,” which gets you to focus on where you are and, just like breathing, gets your mind to focus on what you are doing at the moment instead of thinking about the “what-ifs.”
5. Get up and move.
This also helps with stress, as staying in the area that caused you to be stressed/have an anxiety attack will keep reminding you why you are feeling this way.
Instead, walking away, taking a walk, or even getting up to throw away something helps to interrupt your train of thought and regain control.
6. Stand up straight.
Being anxious causes one to hunch over, as it’s our body’s immediate response to protect our heart and lungs, Chansky told WebMD.
Pulling your shoulders back, standing or sitting with your feet apart, and keeping your arms down to reveal your chest helps your body sense you are back in control.
7. Remove sugar from your diet.
Consuming sugar can lead to worsening anxiety and make you feel jittery, a far stretch from calming down. Make sure you eat something with protein and drink lots of water so you can gain back energy.
8. Ask for another person’s opinion.
Getting another person’s opinion will help you see the situation from the outside and allows you to leave that cloud of stress. It also helps others see what you’re worried about; they might be able to help you feel safe and in control.
9. Distract yourself.
Watching your favorite TV shows, movies and videos that you know make you happy allows you to forget, even for a small moment, that you are freaking out. Additionally, laughing helps to lower anxiety.
10. Change your environment.
If you can change your environment, do so. Go outside for a few minutes and focus on the clouds or the wind. Or, go into a different room, somewhere you feel safe and calm.
When experiencing any sort of stress, the body's instinct is to freeze up. Stretching removes stagnant energy in your body. Once the energy starts flowing again, your body becomes calmer. Do neck rotations and bend your hips to touch your toes.
12. Take a shower or bath.
Taking a shower or bath distracts your mind from the issue at hand. Make sure the water is warm and soothing. Add bubbles, essential oils, or a nice body wash to your self-care session.
13. Look for the color blue.
This color has been shown to bring to the mind feelings of calmness and relaxation.
Focus on the color blue for at least 7 seconds while breathing deeply. If blue isn't working for you, find your favorite color and do the same thing. You can even distract yourself by trying to find objects in that color.
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14. Give yourself a hug.
When your body is touched in a compassionate way, the brain releases oxytocin which is one of the "happy hormones." This hormone makes people feel safe, connected and loved. So, hug yourself when you feel stressed out to release that hormone.
15. Use autogenic training.
Autogenic training is a tactic that promotes bodily relaxation. It's a form of self-hypothesis.
Say these phrases:
- My right arm is heavy.
- My left arm is heavy.
- My arms are heavy.
- I am calm and relaxed.
- My left leg is heavy.
- My right leg is heavy.
- My legs are heavy.
- I am calm and relaxed.
When To Seek Help
Anxiety and stress can hurt you and stop you from doing what you love. Instead of giving in, use these ways to gain control over your life again.
However, if these self-soothing techniques aren't quite helping or making a difference, consider reaching out to a professional that can help you feel more comfortable.
Seeking professional help to assist in managing your anxiety in a more productive way may be the best step for you.
Isabell Tenorio is a writer, former contributor to YourTango, and an opinions editor for The Pine Log. Her work covers astrology, pop culture, and relationships.