Distress Tolerance – Part Two (Self Soothing)

The next distress tolerance skill is self soothing, and this can be used to help you deal with very difficult situations where otherwise you would feel unable to cope. Using these techniques can change your relationship with these negative emotions from ‘I am unable to control them and they control by behaviour’ to ‘I can control them and my behaviour too’.

Self soothing is the use of physical techniques, mainly involving the senses, to make yourself feel calm, relaxed, and in control. It is based on the principle of being kind to yourself, and actively soothing each of your five senses;

  • Vision – Look at beautiful things, bright colours, pastel colours, an art gallery, a beautiful garden, the coast line. (The things I am going to use here are looking at pictures of my dog, going to the coast and looking at the sunset over the bridge and the river, and I frequently already find myself on google images anyway – looking at beautiful scenery, pictures of pretty things, beauty. So I guess I was doing it already!)
  • Hearing – Listen to relaxing music, meditation music, nature rounds, trickling water, birds, calm. Try to be mindful while you are listening.
  • Smell – Light a scented candle (My absolute favourite are Yankee Candles <3), walk in the woods and smell nature, smell highly scented flowers, smell food cooking.
  • Taste – Treat yourself to your favourite food, and eat it mindfully, tasting every bite. Suck on a mint, or a flavoured sweet. Have a soothing drink, such as warm milk or hot chocolate.
  • Touch – Take a bath or go swimming, and feel the water surrounding you. Lie on a furry/fluffy rug and feel the fabric against your skin. Find a silk blouse and rub it on your skin. Have a massage, or put a cold compress on your skin. My favourite is to hug someone. Feeling them wrapped round me and holding me tight is the best feeling in the world <3.

As you can see, self soothing is about finding the things that calm and relax you, which can be used it times of need, where you feel you are struggling to deal with a situation. (Similar to distress tolerance, but on a lesser level, as I prefer to think of distress tolerance for use in an emergency situation).

Note: It is important to be mindful when self-soothing, and therefore fully experiencing and present in the moment.


Click here for a printable worksheet to help you to self soothe, courtesy of survivor to thriver.

Practice Assignment (Courtesy of True Recovery)

Create a self-soothing kit. It could be as simple as a small swatch of soothing fabric you keep in your pocket, or it could be a bit more involved. Whatever you decide, try to keep at least one comforting item with you at all times, and reach for it if you need to give yourself a little TLC.

Add these skills to your journal entries each night. If the Journal is overwhelming or feeling like a chore, go to once or twice a week. Keep it simple and quick, your goal should be to just keep track of your moods and the skills you’ve been able to use.



DBT Self Help

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  1. Great post! And thanks very much for the link to the Survivor to Thriver manual — since so many people with BPD suffered abuse, I think it makes a great add-on to DBT (which is great for learning skills, but sometimes we need a little extra to deal with the underlying trauma).

    1. No problem. Well done with your blog by the way – you are certainly moving through the DBT skills fast – very motivating – I need to get back to it. Do you have the book by Marsha Linehan – Skills training manual for treating BPD? If you don’t, I 100% recommend you get it. It’s written for therapists about how to teach DBT, but really useful with lots of worksheets. xx

  2. […] Distress Tolerance: Part 2 (self soothing)@Living with BPD […]

  3. […] can be done using other distress tolerance methods such as distracting, improving the moment or self soothing. Try this for yourself when you find yourself with a decision to make, or a situation which feels […]

  4. […] Distress Tolerance: Part 2 (self soothing)@Living with BPD […]

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