Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry or dread that we all deal with from time to time in life. However, for some people, feelings of anxiety can be particularly intense or persistent, often as part of an anxiety disorder.
In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 31 percent of US adults deal with an anxiety disorder at some point in life.
When you experience severe feelings of anxiety or other difficult emotions that don’t improve on their own, self-soothing techniques can make dealing with these feelings easier.
Self-soothing is a process that involves calming your mind, easing your worries and making the symptoms of anxiety easier to live with. It’s not a replacement for anxiety medication or therapy, but used effectively, it can have a positive impact on your feelings and mental well-being.
Below, we’ve talked about what self-soothing is, as well as the positive impact that self-soothing behaviors can have on anxiety, fear and other intense emotions.
We’ve also shared 11 self-soothing techniques that you can use to deal with anxiety, as well as information about other options for treating anxiety and improving your quality of life.
Self-soothing is exactly what it sounds like -- the process of soothing yourself when you feel like you’re stressed, anxious or simply overwhelmed by life.
We naturally apply self-soothing strategies when we feel stressed or go through difficult times in life, whether by stepping back from a stressful situation and practicing deep breathing, engaging in self-care when we feel down, or even using crying as a form of emotional release.
Self-soothing is the act of identifying that we’re feeling stressed, worried or unhappy, then using our self-soothing skills deliberately to cope with these feelings and feel better.
When you’re feeling stressed or anxious, a little self-soothing is sometimes all that’s required to calm your mind and get you back on track emotionally.
There are lots of ways to self-soothe anxiety, from using positive affirmations to change the way you think about yourself to changing your environment. Below, we’ve shared 11 techniques that you can use to soothe yourself when you’re feeling down, stressed or simply in need of help.
Sometimes, writing down your thoughts, feelings and daily activities is the most effective way to soothe yourself and make progress toward feeling better.
Journaling for mental health can provide numerous benefits, from reducing feelings of anxiety to improving the symptoms of certain depressive disorders.
If you’re going through a period of severe stress or facing other distressing emotions, writing the way you feel in a daily journal may be a calming, soothing exercise that helps you end each day with your thoughts on paper, not in your mind.
Positive affirmations, or mantras, are short sentences that you can repeat to yourself whenever you start to feel stressed, worried or anxious. Research suggests that repeating affirmations is often an effective way to reduce pathological worry, a common anxiety symptom.
When you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed by life, try using positive affirmations to calm your mind and lift your mood. Good affirmations include:
“I am worthy of being loved and respected.”
“I can get through this, even if it feels difficult.”
“I’ve experienced anxiety before and lived through it -- I can do it again.”
“I have a lot of wonderful things in my life. This is just a passing moment.”
In certain situations, it may help to prepare your own mantra to get you through the moment and keep you focused on the future.
Try using affirmations whenever you feel overwhelmed, overly stressed or as if you’re starting to lose control of life. Sometimes, a minute or two of repeating affirmations to yourself can give you several hours of calmness, letting you focus on making real progress.
As silly as it might sound, sometimes, writing down your worries and storing them in a jar can be an effective way to get negative thoughts out of your mind.
Known as the “worry jar,” this easy exercise involves writing your worries and concerns down on a piece of paper, then storing them in a jar. Whenever you feel anxious, try writing down the way you feel, then storing it to come back to later.
Not only can this exercise create a physical barrier around your worries -- it also lets you discard them all at once, either at the end of the day or once a week.
Breathing exercises, such as practicing slow, relaxed and conscious breathing, have long been used to deal with emotional distress, panic and other anxiety symptoms.
Interestingly, some research suggests that even fairly simple breathing exercises, such as taking slow and deliberate abdominal breaths, can reduce anxiety.
One of the easiest breathing techniques that you can use to self-soothe feelings of worry is box breathing. This approach involves slow breathing in through your nose, holding your breath and breathing out, all before briefly holding your breath again.
Our guide to relaxation techniques for anxiety goes into more detail about box breathing, as well as how you can use it to calm yourself when you’re feeling stressed or worried.
When you’re feeling anxious, it can be easy to ignore your needs and fail to take proper care of yourself.
Instead of putting yourself last, when you start to feel anxious, try to prioritize caring for yourself and making sure your needs are properly met. In other words, don’t be afraid to put yourself first when you’re going through a tough moment and need a little extra care and attention.
Caring for yourself can be as simple as taking five to relax every now and then or as complex as putting together a detailed list of your goals, then working toward achieving them.
Our list of self-care tips shares more than 20 techniques that you can use to take proper care of yourself and improve your mental well-being.
Sometimes, changing your environment can be a helpful way to change the way you think and improve your ability to deal with challenging or disruptive emotions.
Your environment can have a big impact on your mental well-being. If you spend a lot of time in an environment that you associate with stress or anxiety, such as your workplace or home, try changing your environment to change how you feel.
This can be as simple as going to a nearby cafe for a cup of tea, going for a walk in the park or taking a short break close to your city to rest and recharge your batteries.
When you’re feeling stressed, worried or depressed, it can be easy to engage in rumination -- a form of repetitive thinking that involves constantly focusing on negative content.
Rumination is closely linked to mental health conditions, including depression and generalized anxiety disorder. By constantly thinking about negative periods of time in your life, you may be prone to making feelings of stress or worry more severe.
If you’ve noticed yourself ruminating recently, try to soothe your feelings of anxiety by keeping yourself busy.
Sometimes, simple things like scheduling time to exercise, seeing your friends, or participating in local events can clear your mind and help you prevent negative thoughts and overwhelming emotions.
Mindfulness meditation is a popular form of meditating that involves focusing on being present in the current moment, without any distractions. It’s linked to improvements in many aspects of mental health, including stress and anxiety.
When you feel anxious, setting aside even just a few minutes to meditate may help to calm your mind and soothe you, allowing you to better control your thoughts and emotions.
Our guide to meditating goes into more detail about the benefits of mindfulness meditation and shares how you can make meditation part of your daily routine.
Have you ever felt calmer after listening to relaxing, peaceful music? You’re far from alone. Lots of people self-soothe by listening to calming music, and research even shows that certain types of music may help to reduce your blood pressure when you’re feeling stressed.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by life, try setting aside an hour to chill out, rest and listen to your favorite music.
Not only can music calm you down -- it can also help you temporarily escape from your worries, letting you relax and clear your mind before sleep time, get concerns out of your head before an important event, or just enjoy a peaceful moment at the end of the day.
Touch can have a powerful effect on your mental and emotional state, including by calming your mind and improving your ability to cope with stress.
One way to use touch to improve your well-being is by practicing self-soothing touch exercises, such as placing your hand against your heart.
In one study published in the journal Comprehensive Psychoneuroendocrinology, experts found that self-soothing touch may help to reduce levels of cortisol -- a hormone that’s associated with your body’s stress response.
Popular forms of self-soothing touch include massaging your neck and shoulders, tapping points on your body and giving yourself a “butterfly hug.” When you feel worried, try experimenting with different forms of self-soothing touch to see if you can calm yourself and feel more relaxed.
Walking offers several benefits as a self-soothing technique for anxiety. First, it lets you quickly and easily change your environment. Second, it’s a convenient form of exercise that, like other types of physical activity, can offer benefits for reducing stress and anxiety symptoms.
If you’re feeling worried, try going for a 20- to 30-minute walk, whether it’s in the park or around your neighborhood. After getting some fresh air and physical activity, you might find that you’re calmer and more able to process your emotions.
Self-soothing activities can make processing feelings of anxiety easier, especially if you’re in the middle of a tough time in your life.
However, self-soothing isn’t the only way to deal with anxiety, nor is it always the best approach if you have symptoms of anxiety that are severe or persistent.
If you think you might have an anxiety disorder, one of the best things that you can do is to talk to a mental health professional.
You can get help for mental health by talking to your primary care provider about a referral to a psychiatrist, a type of doctor that specializes in diagnosing and treating mental illness.
You can also connect directly with a psychiatry provider from home using our online psychiatry service, allowing you to get expert help in a private, comfortable and familiar setting.
If you have an anxiety disorder, your mental health provider may recommend using medication to reduce the severity of your symptoms, taking part in talk therapy, or making changes to your habits and daily life to improve your well-being.
Several medications are used to treat anxiety, including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
These medications are generally effective, but they can take several weeks to start working as anxiety treatments. As such, it’s important to keep using your medication even if you don’t feel any immediate improvements in your mood and anxiety symptoms.
Our guide to medications for anxiety goes into greater detail about the medications your mental health provider may prescribe if you have ongoing or severe anxiety symptoms.
Therapy for anxiety often involves cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), an approach that focuses on identifying and changing the ways you think, behave and react to certain situations.
Like medication, therapy isn’t an on/off switch for anxiety. However, over time, it can help you to learn new ways of thinking and processing your emotions that help you to gain control over your symptoms.
Finally, making small but meaningful changes to your lifestyle and daily activities can often make the symptoms of anxiety less severe.
Our guide to calming anxiety shares simple lifestyle changes that you can use to reduce anxiety, feel better about yourself and maintain your mental well-being.
Self-soothing is a common way to deal with stress, frustration and anxiety -- feelings that we all experience from time to time in life.
If you feel overwhelmed, burned out or simply anxious, try to use the techniques above to calm your mind and soothe yourself. Over time, you might discover a combination of soothing habits that help you control feelings of worry and become a more resilient person.
If you’re worried that you may have an anxiety disorder, you should consider talking to a mental health expert -- a topic we’ve covered more in our guide to seeking help for mental health.
You can also learn more about your options for treating anxiety in our complete guide to anxiety disorder treatments.
Kate Hagerty is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of healthcare experience. She has worked in critical care, community health, and as a retail health provider.
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