Self-Soothe Using Your 5 Senses

By: Natalie Rice-Thorp, Ph.D. | March 15, 2024

Have you ever felt SO mad, sad, or frustrated that you don’t know what to do with yourself? In these moments, what tools and coping skills do you have to manage your emotions effectively? Do you use alcohol or other substances to calm or numb yourself? Do you lash out at loved ones or pick a fight with your significant other? Do you isolate and ruminate in an unproductive way? These are all common options, but they all have longer term costs and can make matters worse!

Big emotions are challenging and it’s easy to feel stuck and not know what to do with them. Dr. Marsha Linehan, a psychologist who created Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), encourages using the five senses to regulate our emotions and self-soothe. I personally love using the five senses because they are easy to remember, they are effective, and they don’t require a lot of resources.

In therapy with a professional therapist trained in action-oriented approaches, you will learn vital skills to self-soothe and manage strong emotions.

What is Self-Soothing?

If someone handed you a crying baby and told you to calm the baby down, what would you try? You might try holding the baby close and patting, rocking, or bouncing the baby. You might sing to the baby or maybe try to distract the baby with a toy. You might give the baby a pacifier or bottle. What do these approaches all have in common? They all rely heavily on using the five senses: touch, smell, hearing, vision, and taste. You don’t have to be a baby to find these sensory experiences to be soothing.

You can help calm yourself at any age using your five senses. Use the strategies below to get started.

1. Vision

Find something calming in your environment and bring your attention to it. If you aren’t sure where to look, start with nature. Look out the window, or better yet, go find a flower, a leaf, a seashell, or a pebble. Focus all your attention on the colors and details of the item or the scenery. Watch the clouds during the day or the stars at night. You can also look at beautiful art, a photo, or your pet.

2. Hearing

Listen to something calming or serene. Nature is also a helpful starting point for this sense. You can listen to nature sounds such as rain, ocean waves, a babbling brook, wind in the trees, birds singing, or crickets chirping. Play a favorite song or listen to an instrumental piece of music and try to identify the different instruments. Be playful and sing a song to yourself, use a fidget toy, or play with play dough and listen to the clicking or popping sound it makes.

3. Smell

Our sense of smell can be particularly soothing. Smell your favorite perfume/cologne, use lotion or light a scented candle. Lean toward comforting smells like vanilla, citrus, lavender, or cinnamon. To enhance the experience, go outside and smell the grass, trees, flowers, or water.

4. Taste

Use your sense of taste to help you be in the here-and-now. Try a soothing, non-alcoholic drink with a distinct flavor. Slowly and mindfully eat a piece of fruit. Taste a piece of gum or mint. Drink a glass of ice-cold water, warm tea, or hot cocoa. Focus your attention on the different tastes and notice if the taste is different on different parts of your tongue.

5. Touch

Gently flutter your fingers over your arms in butterfly hugs. Pat your arms or legs in a comforting way. Place a cool or warm cloth on your neck or forehead and bring your attention to the sensations. For a more immersive experience, run water over your body in the bath or shower. Put on cozy socks and feel the softness or put your feet in the sand and feel the grains in-between your toes. Cuddle up with a soft blanket. Pet your dog or cat, and if you don’t have one that is close enough to touch, imagine with as much detail as possible that you are petting them.


When you feel overwhelmed by emotion and don’t know what to do, stick with the basics! Instead of reaching for unhealthy activities, use your five senses to keep calm. For an added benefit, you can increase your sensory experience by incorporating multiple senses. For example, light a scented candle and notice the flickering flame’s colors, hear it crackling, smell the fragrance, and feel the warmth near it.

We can all benefit from self-soothing skills. Be patient with yourself as you practice using your five senses to manage strong emotions. The team at Therapy Changes is here to help you learn more about your stressors and develop new skills to help you cope. Contact Us today to learn more about how you can help calm yourself in challenging situations.



Photo by Vero Manrique on Unsplash

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