Introduction

Our five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch can be an effective means to reach a state of relaxation and peace. When experiencing a situation of emotional distress it is very helpful to try to relax by engaging in an activity that includes one of the five senses. In this article, we will present ideas about what you can do to get that subtle sense of peace. Each one of us is different so you may find that you will like some of the presented activities better than the others. For example, somebody might enjoy looking at a beautiful visual work of art, while for others that may not be suitable and they might enjoy their favorite meal more.

Distress Tolerance: Self Soothing
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Instructions

Below there are numerous suggestions about how you can engage your five different senses. Go through each of them and think about which ones of them you would find beneficial and enjoyable. The goal of these activities is to reach a state of relaxation, where you would be able to think and behave more effectively. Being calm and relaxed is also important because it affects our physical health in a very positive way.

Choose 2-3 ideas from each group and write it down in the worksheet.

1 Sense of Sight

  1. Go to nature (it can be a park nearby) and look at the beautiful way how the sky, the trees, the grass, the benches and the people make a collage of colors and life.
  2. Find pictures on the Internet of places that you find soothing to look at. It can be different cities, nature, or artistic images and pictures.
  3. Go to a museum or a gallery and enjoy the visual art presented there.
  4. Watch a movie that is famous for its beautiful cinematography (like "2001 Space Odyssey"). Make sure that its story won't be something that will be difficult for you to watch.
  5. Start a collection of pictures that you find pleasurable and soothing to look at, and look at them when needed.

2 Sense of Hearing

  1. Talk to a person that you like and whose voice makes you happy or you enjoy hearing.
  2. Listen to your favorite music that usually makes you more relaxed.
  3. Listen to soothing jazz, or instrumental live radio on YouTube. You might also enjoy classical music, opera or new age music (like the music of Enya).
  4. Go to a park nearby and enjoy the liveliness of sounds around you (birds, wind, people chattering).
  5. If you play a musical instrument or sing in your free time, you can try to do that.
  6. Listen to an audio book, a podcast or a TV show that you enjoy and see if it makes you feel more relaxed.

3 Sense of Smell

  1. Wear a perfume or cologne whose smell you enjoy.
  2. Light up a scented candle in your room.
  3. Cook a meal that smells delicious to you.
  4. Buy some flowers or indoor plants that you would enjoy smelling.
  5. Hug a person you love whose smell makes you feel calm.
  6. Go someplace where you enjoy the scent (flower shop, perfume shop, restaurant, bakery)

4 Sense of Taste

  1. Cook your favorite meal, eat it slowly and savor its taste.
  2. Go to your favorite place to eat and buy your favorite meal.
  3. Get some snacks or comfort food (chocolate, ice cream, potato chips) and enjoy it (but don't overdo it).
  4. Make yourself a cup of coffee, tea, cocoa or anything else that you enjoy drinking (avoid alcohol).
  5. Eat a fresh piece of fruit and enjoy its taste.
  6. Chew gum or eat some sweets.

5 Sense of Touch

  1. Take your favorite, soft blanket and wrap yourself or simply enjoy how it feels on your skin.
  2. Pet your animal and hold it in your lap.
  3. Wear comfortable clothes and enjoy how it feels on your skin.
  4. Take a shower or a bubble bath and enjoy the warm and soothing water. You can also take a cold shower if you find that more suitable.
  5. Get a massage or if you don't have the time, you can massage yourself.
  6. Touch something smooth, velvety or fluffy.
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Worksheet

Practice the self soothing techniques to diffuse emotions when they are running out of control.

DBT Distress Tolerance: Self Soothing Worksheet

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FAQs

What if the situation of distress I am in does not allow me to do the activities suggested?

If you absolutely cannot leave the situation that's causing you the distress, just remember and be aware that in this particular moment there is nothing you can do and wait for the situation to end. Then you can try one of the things suggested. If you can, you can leave the situation and calm yourself down. Another idea is to do something small that will not necessarily affect the situation you are in, in a negative way (for example, if you are at work, you can take a little break and enjoy a cup of coffee, tea, listen to your favorite song, etc.).

There are other activities that I enjoy doing that are not listed above. Can I do those?

In the worksheet there will be space for you to write down your own ideas or things that you already enjoy doing. Since everybody is different you may have your own habits that effectively calm you down, so as long as they are safe for you, you can definitely do them.

Will these activities effectively help me to calm down and relax?

Although the activities may seem simple, they are useful. When you are emotionally distressed it might seem like these activities are perhaps too mellow to work. In this case you can first distract yourself (by doing some of the exercises we previously worked on, like the RESISTT technique, the list of pleasurable activities) and then do these. The nature of positive emotions and states is more subtle than the strong and upsetting negative emotions. This means that by practicing to fully experience these positive sensations and emotions you will build this skill more and more, and it will be easier for you to do this exercise.

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