Distress Tolerance 3: Self-Soothe with the Five Senses

Please feed the homunculus

One of the most important tools in your arsenal is techniques for self-soothing. You’ll hear phrases like self-care all over therapy, and that can include all kinds of things for maintaining and cultivating your well being in the long term. But if what you need is some immediate comfort in a distressing moment these skills can get you through the pain and help you find peace.

When your thoughts and emotions are racing, you need to get grounded by connecting to the physical world around you. We experience the physical world through the five senses (as we all remember from pre-school). Take a moment when you’re not in distress to make a list of things that you enjoy with your five senses so you can refer back to the list when you need a reminder of how to get through a crisis.

My list looks a little like this:


  • Photos of family and friends
  • art
  • flowers
  • clouds
  • stars
  • landscapes, favourite places
  • Imagine a safe place in your mind


  • Listen to the sound of your own breathing
  • wind chimes
  • soft/pleasing music
  • favourite podcast
  • radio
  • heartbeat
  • running water
  • wind in the trees



  • Scented candles
  • fresh flowers
  • hand lotion
  • my favourites – cedar, mint, lavender, raspberries, citrus, roses, pine, petricore



  • Tea
  • Chocolate
  • berries
  • cheese
  • coffee
  • mixed nuts



  • Snuggles
  • warm scarf
  • manicure
  • weighted blanket
  • hot shower
  • cool mist
  • swimming
  • origami
  • smooth stones
  • pet my kitty!

One of our homework assignments for DBT was to get a medium sized box and fill it with items you can use to self-sooth with the five senses. Things like photographs, scented lotion, emergency chocolate, fidget toys, feathers, etc. Whatever you can think of that you can use in a distressing moment to calm yourself.

Being the studious academic I am of course I never actually did that homework, but instead I embarked on a large scale project to transform my whole house into a self-soothe-box! Seriously, after living in our house for five years I finally started putting art up on the walls, hid emergency chocolate around the house, started keeping houseplants, and printed photos of my family for an album. I made a few purchases to help things along, like a singing bowl and spotify premium. I made playlists for different moods and uses, like soothing instrumental, or songs for smashing the patriarchy, or sexytimes (solo and/or with hubby *wink*).

Take some time to really think about small physical things you can use to help you sooth yourself when you need it. It will take hard work but it will pay off in the future. Think of it like giving your future self a present; you can treat yourself, surprise yourself, be kind to yourself. Eventually these little acts of self-kindness will become your natural response to distress.

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