“How to Cope with Difficult Situations – 4 Strategies to Self-Soothe”

Self-soothing is a skill that allows us to take care of ourselves when we get hurt, physically or emotionally, feel anxious or overwhelmed, sad or depressed.  We feel better, and we learn to trust and rely on ourselves.  It is an important set of skills that builds a sense of self.

1) Remove yourself from the situation. Taking a break will give you time to process through the situation and approach it with intention.  We often react to situations in ways that we later regret.

In situation where you are interacting with someone who is upsetting you, it may not be easy to simply leave the situation.  However, you can create some space for yourself by using one of the following phrases:  

  • “I need to think about that.” 
  • “Let me look into that, and I will get back to you.”
  • “I am going to need a moment to process that.” 
  • “I need to step away from this for a moment and come back to it.”
  • “Let’s get back together on this …”.

2)  Breathe.  Belly breathing expands and contracts your diaphragm which acts like a braking system on out vagus nerve, which will help you regulate yourself physically and emotionally.

Belly breathing is easy to do and very relaxing. Try this basic exercise anytime you need to relax or relieve stress.

  1. Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position.
  2. Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest.
  3. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move.
  4. Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in and use it to push all the air out.
  5. Do this breathing 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath.
  6. Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.

Breathing is an important step of self-soothing.  When you become stressed or anxious, your brain releases cortisol, the “stress hormone.” By taking deep breaths, your heart rate slows, more oxygen enters our blood stream and ultimately communicates with the brain to relax. Deep breathing also ups your endorphins, the “feel good” chemical.

3)  Reflect on the situation.  The goal of self-soothing is to provide yourself comfort and to help yourself deal with a situation.  To get a deeper understanding of what you need in those moments focus on any bodily sensations, your thoughts, your feelings, and what advice a respected mentor would give you.  You can do this by asking yourself the following questions:

Body Awareness

  • What sensations is my body experiencing?
  • Are there any spots in my body that are sore or in pain?
  • What does my body need in this moment?

Emotional Awareness

  • What am I feeling? 
  • Is there more than one feeling?

Thought Awareness

  • Am I being critical of myself?
  • What does this situation tell me about me?
  • Is my line of thinking helpful to me?


What advice would (mentor’s name) give me about this?

4)   Use your five senses to cope with stress and self-soothe;

  1. Touch
    1. Taking a warm bubble bath filled with Epsom salt to help relax any muscular tension
    2. Getting a massage
  2. Taste
    1. Drinking a cup of hot herbal tea to help relax
    2. Chewing gum or sucking on a piece of hard candy 
  3. Smell
    1. Aromatherapy and the use of essential oils
    2. Lighting candles
  4. Sight
    1. Distracting yourself with your favorite comedy movie or television show
    2. Laying in a field and watching the clouds pass by
  5. Sound
    1. Listening to your favorite music
    2. Using a sound machine during periods of rest and sleep







Dr. Dana Phenix, LMFT
Dr. Dana Phenix, LMFT

Dr. Dana Phenix is the owner of Rochester Therapy Center, Rochester MN. Dr. Dana specializes in trauma, depression, anxiety-related disorders, and relationship-issues. Dr. Dana works with individuals, couples, and families. Attachment injuries impact people in all aspects of life making it difficult for people to experience harmonious relationships with partners, with family, at work, and in school. Dr. Dana uses neurofeedback, talk therapy, and somatic experiencing to help people achieve symptom relief and deepen relational connections.