By nature, negative thoughts can easily run wild and take over our lives. Something bad someone has done in the past can go alongside worries about finances, future career moves, or our long-term health. It can be difficult to remove thoughts about the situation when something stressful is going on. You can sleep through the day or get distracted. That’s where the practice of self-soothing can help.

Self-soothing is any relaxing practice to distract ourselves from negative thinking and help us feel better. Examples could be breathing exercisesplaying uplifting music, starting a mindfulness hobby like yoga or connect with others.

One study looked at oxytocin release and self-soothing behaviors. Oxytocin, a natural hormone linked to feelings of well-being and anti-stress, is released in the brain through a range of low-intensity stimulation behaviors such as touching and caressing, but it can also be released through pleasurable situations in general. Self-soothing is the release of feel-good hormones by consciously choosing pleasurable activities.

For more mental health tips, visit how gratitude improves your mental health and tips for dealing with depression during the holidays.

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

8 self-smoothing techniques to start today

The next time you’re feeling stressed or anxious, try one of our favorite self-soothing techniques.

Use your breathing well

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

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

Practicing diaphragmatic breathing:

1. Lie flat on your back with your knees bent or supported by a pillow. Also support your head. You can also do this sitting down.

2. Place one hand on your upper chest and the other directly under your ribcage.

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

4. Exhale through your mouth and exhale completely. Make sure the hand on your chest remains as still as possible.

5. Repeat for as long as it takes to feel relaxed or as long as you have.

Woman does breathing exercises.

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Square breathing: Another method is square breathing, which relies on counting to focus thoughts and get the relaxing benefits of slow breathing. With this method, you simply exhale completely. Then breathe in slowly through your nose, counting to four. Hold that breath and count to four again. Exhale through your mouth for four counts, then hold your breath again for four counts. Repeat for the duration of the exercise.

Breathe with pursed lips: Another popular breathing technique is pursed lip breathing. This technique makes you have to put in more effort to breathe, thus slowing down your breathing and helping you focus only on your breathing. To perform this technique, start by exhaling completely, then inhale through your nose for two counts. Purse or pucker your lips as if you were going to whistle. Then exhale slowly as you count to four. Repeat for as long as comfortable or necessary.

If you have a chronic or temporary nasal congestion, feel free to breathe through your mouth when the instructions ask you to breathe 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 is based on grounding you in the present so you can focus on something other than anxious thoughts. It requires you to recognize things from your immediate environment. Use the following steps to perform the exercise:

5: Acknowledge five items that you can see around you. This can be anything from the floor to a ceiling fan.

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

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

2: Acknowledge two things you can smell, such as some hand lotion or you can even see what the pillow in your bedroom smells like.

1: Recognize one thing you can taste, such as a lingering food taste from lunch or a mint taste from brushing your teeth.

Use your inner dialogue for self-affirmation

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

Finding a good set of self talk lines is a very personal experience. You will usually need to address specific insecurities or find expressions that resonate with you. Self-talk exercises usually involve subverting negative thoughts that make you feel down. For example, instead of thinking how embarrassed you are, remind yourself that you jumped at the chance and were brave to try.

To start with, some common and common positive Self-Talk phrases are:

“I can do it.”

“I’m good enough.”

“I can try again if I make a mistake.”

“I am doing the best I can.”

“I’m trying my best.”

Try looking for positive Self-Talk phrases and see which ones resonate with you. One or two may jump out at you, and you can try relying 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 bring us down. It could be as simple as getting less daylight in the winter, so you could look into bulbs that mimic natural sunlight.

Sometimes, exposing ourselves to too much negative media can also turn our overall view of the negative. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a study showed that media exposure to COVID-19 news was associated with anxiety and subjective loneliness. You don’t have to cut off all stressful media completely, but it can be helpful to regulate how much you consume in a week or use tools that manage media attention, such as apps that help you limit your time on social media.

You can also work on changing your immediate environment. Repaint your walls soothing tonesredecorate your home with more uplifting and colorful decor or even plain tidy up your room can make a big difference. Play around to see which decor choices lift your mood.

Create a favorite playlist

Music can help improve our mood. You’ve probably experienced firsthand the joy of rocking out to your favorite music. Make a playlist of all your feel-good favorites.

Don’t forget to expand and try new genres, songs and artists. You may find your new favorite song that always lifts you up. Making a playlist of all new songs can also orient you in the present moment, rather than listening to a song that reminds you of the past.

Hug someone (or yourself)

Woman in white shirt hugging herself against pink background

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Above, we discussed how touch can help you release feel-good hormones. Therefore, try to make physical contact with someone you care about. Give them a hug, or even try to hug yourself.

Hugging yourself may sound strange, but it can relieve pain and improve your mood. To hug yourself, wrap your arms in whatever way feels most comfortable, place your hands on your shoulders or upper arms, and squeeze yourself for as long as you need to. You could give a hard hug if that’s what you need right now, or a softer and more soothing hug.

Try gently stroking your shoulders or forearms to get the sense of touch. You can do this while hugging yourself 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 includes deep breathing can help add feelings of relaxation, such as meditation, yoga, qigong, or tai chi. You could also try meditation apps.

Look for other hobbies that can provide a positive mood boost from getting outside, such as hiking, gardening, or biking. These activities can also be mindful if you focus as much as possible on the present moment while doing them.

Write down your feelings

Finally, try to write down your feelings, which can help us deal with anxiety, depression, and anxiety tension, according to the University of Rochester Medical Center. You could try keeping a journal of how you feel and why, and writing down ways to 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 prompts even help you continue working social anxiety. Try searching for terrifying diary prompts.

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

The information 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 health care professional if you have any questions about a medical condition or health goals.

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