My Distraction Lolly Sticks. A Bunch of lolly sticks in a mug, each with a different distraction or soothing technique written on it.

Aboard the Ship Self-Help 6: Self Soothing

I’m really glad I decided to read The DBT Skills Workbook and Rising Strong in tandem because they’re very different in style – the DBT book is all straight to the point, facts and lists and instructions, while Rising Strong is, well, written by a storyteller. But ultimately they’re both about learning skills that can help you cope with the bad times in life, and I like the way they fit together.

I’ve just read the rest of the first chapter of the DBT book, which was about relaxing and self-soothing. These are things that… well, let’s just say that I struggle! I don’t think I’m ever really relaxed, which is a very difficult thing to do when you’re always in pain. But that doesn’t mean I can’t learn to soothe myself when I’m in distress. In fact, I very much hope that I can, because it’d be really useful.

And so, on to the gist of this section. It consists of lists of suggestions for soothing yourself using each of the five senses. I quite liked this way of looking at the act of self-soothing; it felt a bit more structured than a whole list together might have been. My relationship with my senses is a little bit rocky, but I found at least one idea in each section that seemed worth considering.

From the smell section, I wrote down ‘smell a book’ because books smell delicious, new or old, and of all the things I love the smell of, they’re probably the most accessible to me. Reading the vision section, I reminded myself that I love illustrated books, and that I have lots of art I want to hang on my wall. I have ‘drinking tea’ for taste. Hearing is harder, but perhaps I can take more notice of how different music makes me feel and choose it more thoughtfully. All I have for touch is ‘find nice things’ but hopefully I’ll manage that too.

Writing each of these ideas down, it doesn’t sound like very much. The thing is, though, every little thing helps. The more items I have in my toolbox – or rather, the more lolly sticks I have in my mug! – the more options I have when things happen and I need ways to cope. I’ve put the soothing ideas in with my Distraction Lolly Sticks because there’s a lot of overlap, and they’re all ways of being able to mitigate the bad feelings in the moment.

But although I’m pleased to have a few new ideas in my repertoire, I also feel that the writers of The DBT Skills Workbook have missed a trick here. There are more senses than the five that we get told about and I can’t help wondering whether there might be some really useful self-soothing techniques to be found from thinking about the extra ones. For example, one of my most instinctive ways of self-soothing is to rock. I think this is linked to the sense called proprioception, which is what tells us where the parts of our body are and how we are moving them.

And that’s what my homework’s going to be. I want to do some research about the other senses, and consider ways of soothing myself using them. Hopefully I’ll be able to add a couple more lolly sticks to my mug.


  1. This was so interesting to read! I like the idea of self-soothing, although I don’t think I would do it by senses if I did it. This is where I always part ways with things like CBT and DBT not always being very accessible to autistic people. For me, senses are a weird mix of easily-overstimulated and love-to-stim-with, and I fear I’d too easily let myself slide into sensory overload if I tried to stimulate most of my senses. It certainly wouldn’t be very self soothing. I mentioned to you elsewhere that I love burning incense, but I can only do it under very quiet and limited-senses circumstances, like when doing meditation or a little Pagan ritual. Otherwise it’s just too much senses-heightening for me.

    Love the idea of exploring the other senses though – a lot of my stimming is done via proprioception (rocking, spinning etc). My other big ones for that are touch (but only under *very* certain conditions and it has to be the right kind of touch stimulation) and playing with sounds (but again only in the right way). Phew – adapting this stuff can be so hard! As you know doubt know 🙂

    I’m so glad you’re adding to your toolbox and I hope it works for you!


    • That’s really interesting about not being able to soothe via your senses… l’m reminded of a thing the fatigue clinic people gave me when I was first referred to them – a list of sensory activities that I had to look through and try to work out which things would be stimulating to my senses and which things would be soothing to them (and, for me at least, which were Just Terrible for them!). My list of soothing things is much smaller than my list of stimulating things! I actually think here that I’ve probably just been talking about ‘good’ rather than ‘soothing’ – maybe I’ll add thinking about the distinction to my homework!


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