Distress Tolerance: Big List of Ideas and Examples for Practicing the Self-Soothe Skill
When using the Distress Tolerance Skill of Self-Soothe, the goal is to create small, physically pleasurable or calming or stimulating experiences for your senses. Here is a substantial list of some examples of pleasurable or engaging experiences for each sense:
- If a lot of your breakdowns happen at night, go outside and look at the stars. Sometimes it’s nice to be accompanied by a stargazing app on your phone that helps you identify constellations and other astral features. This is a personal favourite of mine because you also get the benefit of fresh air.
- Look at pictures you like in a book of illustrations, a book of artwork by favourite artists, look at the complex designs of adult colouring books (and colour them!)
- Create and compile a tag on your tumblr or a board on pinterest of calming or visually stimulating images/gifs (or a photo album of good memories or images that remind you of good moments)
- Go to a craft store and buy one (or many!) beautiful silk flower(s), or, go to a florist/flower shop/grocery store and buy an interesting live flower or plant. Terrariums make particularly calming things to look at.
- Light a candle and watch the flame.
up a glitter jar or snowglobe and watch the glitter or snow swirl and
settle (there are many different “recipes” for making a glitter jar so
if you’re interested in learning how, just google it and try different
methods until you get a result you’re happy with. You can also probably
buy one on Etsy if you don’t want to do the DIY thing).
- Go people-watching.
- Walk in a pretty part of town or a nice park. Look closely at any interesting architecture or beautiful nature.
- Watch a sunrise or sunset.
- Watch the clouds, notice shapes they form that may look like animals or objects.
- Watch a fireworks display.
- During holiday seasons like Halloween or Christmas, drive or walk around your area to look at the decoration displays. Look up images or videos of impressive and ambitious and extravagant Christmas light displays.
- Go to a nature park, bird or butterfly sanctuary and watch the creatures.
- Watch dance performances on YouTube (there are SO MANY good ones in all different styles, solo or with a partner or in a group, dance battles, street performances or TV performances like So You Think You Can Dance… you can find incredibly amazing things)
- Watch YouTube videos of martial arts demonstrations (Tai Chi is soothing to watch, Capoeira is really visually interesting, HEMA/WMA rapier or longsword or sidesword drills can also be rhythmic and the repetition can be enjoyable to watch) or some practice or tournament sparring (NO MMA bloodsport, that’s not soothing!)
- Watch YouTube videos and clips of gymnastics competitions, or figure-skating performances/competitions.
- Watch sports highlight reels on YouTube or on a sports TV channel like SportsNet, TSN, ESPN, etc.
- Watch YouTube tutorials: make-up tutorials or hair tutorials, cosplay tutorials, drawing or painting tutorials (or speedpaints or timelapses), etc.
- Watch cute animal videos or gifs (another personal favourite of mine).
- Read comics, graphic novels, or manga.
- Watch a visually intricate, interesting, calming, or stimulating TV show or movie. Animated movies or shows are particularly nice, like Miyazaki films or some Dreamworks films or the Legend of Korra series are some examples that come to mind. Movies with a lot of well-done visual effects are also nice, or movies and TV shows that have excellent costume or set design, like the Lord of the Rings trilogy or period movies/shows. If you download movies and TV shows, perhaps keep a special folder of go-to calming or visually engaging shows that appeal to your sense of vision.
- Watch nature or science documentaries like shows on the National Geographic Channel (or website), the Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, the BBC, etc. My top recommendations are anything narrated by David Attenborough, and Cosmos narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson.
- Watch educational YouTube channels (personal favourite is TheBrainScoop, a natural history channel out of the Field Museum in Chicago). I know some people really dislike the vlogbrothers, but SciShow and the various field-specific incarnations of SciShow are also interesting to watch and are visually engaging because of high production quality.
- Put up Christmas lights in your room but keep them there all year around and turn them on/plug them in when you want something pretty to look at.
- Decorate an area of your room, or make one area of your room pleasant to look at.
- Re-read letters or kind messages people have sent you over the years. If they’re online or on your phone, take screenshots of them and keep them in a folder so that you can look through them when you’re feeling down about yourself. For especially special ones, print a few out and either pin/tape them up on your wall where you can see them regularly, or fold them up and put them in your wallet or your bag (purse, backpack, briefcase, etc) so you can read them anywhere you go if you need to. (You can also put these in your Self-Soothe Kit)
- Listen to soothing, invigorating, or empowering music. Create specific playlists for this purpose. Don’t include music that makes you feel negative emotions or brings up negative memories.
- Listen to ambient noise makers, especially ones that are customizable. If you’re having too much of a breakdown to play with customizable ambient noise makers, you can always find 3-10 hour loops of ambient noise videos on YouTube.
- Pay attention to the sounds of nature (waves, birds, rainfall, leaves rustling, etc).
- Pay attention to the sounds of the city (traffic, human chatter, street performers, the sound of the wind whistling down streets or around buildings, etc)
- Sing to your favourite songs and blast your music super loud. If you have a good sound system, lie on the floor and feel the bass.
- Listen to the discography of your favourite band or musician or artist
- Listen to audiobooks
- Listen to lectures or podcasts (iTunesU is a great place to find free lectures of full university courses or lecture series on a particular subject. TedTalks is also a good place for this stuff.)
- Listen to (and watch) educational YouTube channels (my favourite, as previously stated, is TheBrainScoop, a natural history channel out of the Field Museum in Chicago, and previously a zoological museum in Montana)
- Watch/Listen to documentaries narrated by David Attenborough (his voice is incredibly soothing, seriously, if you watch the Life documentary series, watch the version he narrated, not Oprah’s version because Attenborough’s is much more soothing). The documentaries are also usually a very high quality so they’re visually soothing as well.
- Listen to musical soundtracks, or watch the shows on YouTube, or watch YouTube-specific musicals like the musicals created by StarKid (Starship is particularly good).
- Hum or whistle.
- Call/Skype a friend or loved one to listen to their voice.
- Play an instrument or learn to play an instrument (you can watch tutorials for this on YouTube too)
- Make playlists for different emotions or ones that achieve different effects. One that’s relaxing, one that’s upbeat and happy and makes you want to dance, one that makes you want to rock out or pumps you up, one that’s instrumental (movie and video game soundtracks are good for this), etc.
- Make playlists with certain themes, like traveling, or city life, or the sea, or songs that remind you of someone you love. Include songs that inspire you or comfort you (three of my go-to songs for that are I Stand Alone by Van Canto, Good to be Alive by Skillet, and Battle Cry by Angel Haze, for example) and songs that remind you of your goals, things you want to accomplish, things you still want to do and experience because that can really help you look past the pain of the now and look towards the possibilities of the future.
- Note: when making playlists, try to only include songs you really like and would want to listen to all the way through. You don’t want to be skipping a lot of songs, or skipping any at all. The ideal is to be able to put on a playlist that is at least a couple hours long and be able to just continuously listen.
- Use your favourite soap, shampoo, aftershave, cologne, lotions, body wash, shaving cream, body spray or perfume.
- Light an aromatherapy candle or just a scented candle.
- Burn incense.
- Make a cup of a particularly aromatic tea.
- Open a container of loose tea and inhale the scent, or open up a new bag of coffee and inhale the fresh coffee.
- Put lemon oil on your furniture (I’ve never done this, I dunno what it smells like, but this is listed in the Manual so obviously some people find it beneficial).
- Bake something, because baking always smells good. Baking bread is really nice and could be fairly easy if you have a bread-maker.
- Cook a particularly delicious smelling meal (personally I’m partial to the smell of cooking turkey bacon, but also the smell of onions being cooked always smells good to me).
- Put potpourri or an aromatherapy oil in your room. You can get those air freshener/room scents that plug into the wall and put one of those in your room.
- Rub an aromatherapy oil on the insides of your wrists (I do this and have a few different scents and I keep some in my self-soothe kit)
- Wear a scent locket necklace (a necklace with a locket that has a piece of fabric inside that you dip in a scented oil so the locket continuously gives off this scent).
- Boil cinnamon or heat up vanilla.
- Go to a flower shop and literally smell the roses! (or your favourite flower or herb or choice)
- Keep dried herbs in your house, ones you particularly like
- Buy a small spice kit or a travel spice kit and carefully smell them (don’t inhale too deeply because otherwise you might get powder up your nose!)
- Open a window, walk outside, get some fresh air.
- Go to a wooded area or a park or a garden and mindfully breathe in the fresh smells of nature.
- Buy a special soap or face wash or body lotion or body spray just to be used for the times when you need to self-soothe, as a treat for yourself.
- Eat some of your favourite foods.
- Drink your favourite soothing drink, such as a special tea, a particularly rich or flavoured hot chocolate, a fancy latte, or a smoothie (JugoJuice is particularly good on the soothing smoothie front).
- Order a very special and extravagant drink at Starbucks or your coffeeshop of choice. Make sure it’s an order that you only get on rare occasions so that it remains special. As for extra whipped cream, be completely indulgent. This is one of my favourite things to do. Make a list of special drinks and flavour combinations that you enjoy that are not on the standard menu, keep the list in your wallet or your bag so that you’ll be able to remember a more complicated order at times when your memory might be failing you due to too much distress.
- Go to a fancy bakery (or the bakery section in your local grocery store) and get a slice of cake, or treat yourself to a similarly special dessert.
- Go out for dinner to a place you enjoy, either a place that’s a special treat for you, or a place that is comforting and familiar.
- Eat a food or candy that is strongly associated with your childhood (like fruit rollups or dunk-a-roos or gummy bears, or cereal like Froot Loops or Lucky Charms or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, for me).
- Go to your local convenience store and indulge yourself with a chocolate bar.
- Sample flavours of ice cream at an ice cream parlour.
- Buy a special ice cream cone with more than one scoop or flavour, with toppings like sprinkles or crushed nuts or chocolate drizzle. Give yourself permission to have something special and out-of-the-ordinary. Alternatively, go to the grocery store’s ice cream or frozen yogurt section and buy yourself a tub or box of ice cream in your favourite flavour. Try to get small containers so you don’t end up eating too much and feeling sick afterwards. That would be counterproductive.
- Suck on a piece of hard candy.
- Eat a very chewy candy that takes a long time to eat.
- Chew your favourite flavour of gum. Go out and get a special flavour of bubblegum and blow bubbles. The repetitive motion of chewing gum is also soothing and can prevent you from clenching your teeth and jaw.
- Brush your teeth and use mouthwash.
- Drink a carbonated, fizzy drink or put fizzy tablets in your drink and notice the sensation of the bubbles in your mouth.
- Eat slowly, to savour and enjoy what you’re eating. Try to eat Mindfully, using the skills Observe, Describe, Participate, and One-Mindful. Make sure you’re being Non-Judgmental of yourself for eating a treat or something special. If eating can be triggering for you or affect your self-esteem or will make you feel guilty, then it would be best to not choose this sense to stimulate.
- Take a long hot bath or shower, or sit in a hot tub.
- Pet your dog or cat. Cuddle with them close, feel their heartbeat, feel their chest expand as they breathe. Pay attention to the texture of their fur or coat and how it feels on your hands.
- Have someone give you a massage or a back rub.
- Massage your own hands and feet, shoulders and calves, neck and forehead/temples.
- Rub a lotion over your entire body, feel how soft your skin is.
- Put a cold compress or damp cloth on your forehead or the back of your neck.
- Wash your face, either just with water or with a special facial scrub.
- Follow all the steps of a skincare routine.
- Brush your teeth, paying attention to your gums, the insides of your cheeks, and your tongue. It can be surprisingly soothing if you do it methodically and take your time and do it Mindfully.
- Sink into a comfortable chair in your home.
- Lay down, comfortably in bed, surrounded by pillows (maybe make a pillow fort?), and pull the covers up to your chin or over your head, and tuck yourself in or have someone else tuck you in.
- Put fresh, clean sheets on your bed. Alternatively, buy special, high-thread count sheets for you to put on your bed on special occasions like when you need to self-soothe and feel comforted.
- If you’re going to be out in public and may need to self-soothe, wear an article of clothing that is particularly soft or silky or pleasant to touch (like a scarf, for example), or wear a really soft or crisp shirt, a snuggly hoodie, a very smooth blazer of fine wool, a satiny or silky blouse or jacket, or a garment that has an interesting texture that you can run your hands over (I’m a huge fan of textured fabrics so most of my clothes are made of fabrics with interesting textures precisely for this purpose).
- NOTE: Make sure every part of your outfit is comfortable and not itchy or constricting, make sure the tags on the garments don’t irritate you and that the seams are also not irritating or abrasive.
- If you’re at home, put on your comfiest, softest pajamas or fuzzy socks or fuzzy/cushioned slippers.
- Take a drive with the car windows rolled down (or, if in a convertible, with the top down), and feel the wind blow through your hair and the feel of the wind on your skin. This is another personal favourite of mine.
- Run your hand along smooth wood or leather, or feel the details of a wood or leather object that has been carved or embossed.
- Run your hand over a worry stone.
- Grip a stress ball/toy.
- Play with a fidget toy (like a spinner ring) or a stim toy.
- If you’re a crystal person, hold a crystal in your hands and feel the energy within it, along with its smoothness and sharpness.
- Hug someone. Feel that physical closeness, notice and feel their heartbeat and the rise and fall of their chest while you’re hugging them.
- Cuddle with someone.
- Cuddle a stuffed animal, especially a particularly comforting one from your childhood.
- Hold someone’s hand. Notice the feel of their skin, the texture, the temperature, how you’re holding hands (are your fingers interlaced? If they are, how so? Etc)
- This one is kinda weird, but put liquid glue on your hand, let it dry, and then peel it off. It’s an interesting sensation.
- I don’t know if this counts as touch, but paint your nails. Do your makeup. Style your hair. Experiment with your makeup and your hair, do something different or wacky or straight up wild, for the tactile experience of working with your hair and the make up.
- Pluck your eyebrows. Some people may not find this pleasant or soothing, but I do. Maybe I’m just weird.
- Go for a run and concentrate on the feeling of your feet connecting to the pavement or the trail or the treadmill, feel the sweat accumulate on your body, if running outside feel the wind in your hair and on your face.
- Go for a swim, feel the water on your skin as you move through it.
- There are other senses like your sense of pressure.
Using pressure like a weighted blanket or a heavy quilt of comforter
laid over your body can be a very pleasant and calming sensation and is
commonly used by people who experience sensory overload, such as
- Yet another sense is our perception of temperature. Here you could basically use the T in the TIP skill, or a milder form of the T skill which could be putting a cool, damp cloth on your forehead or the back of your neck. You could also take a warm bath or sit in a hot-tub.
- While there are many more, the last sense I’ll mention is our sense of motion. It is soothed by repetitive motions, like tapping fingers or feet, bouncing your knee, or sitting in a rocking chair. I personally find rocking chairs to be especially soothing.
This list is far from exhaustive, so you might come up with something that isn’t on this list that really works for you.