Self-Soothe with Six Senses

According to DBT, a crisis can be defined as a short-term, highly stressful experience where our levels of emotional distress are particularly high.

During moments of crisis, emotional pain can feel acutely intense and intolerable. Strong urges to escape these experiences or change how we feel can put us in danger of acting in ways which can make matters worse and/or be harmful to ourselves or others.

DBT offers a range of crisis survival skills that we can use in these exact moments, when we cannot solve the problem immediately. These skills are designed to help us survive and tolerate these intense emotions, until the wave of distress passes – as it always will.

One of the core crisis survival skills is Self-soothing. We can soothe ourselves during a crisis by engaging our six senses.   


Use your vision to focus on something aesthetically pleasing and comforting in your environment, which elicits soothing memories or associations. For example, the colours of a sunset or the sky, a photograph of a happy memory or a beautiful piece of art.


Listen to soothing sounds which evoke a feeling of calmness. You may focus on the sounds of birds singing outside, the ticking of a clock or gentle music playing. You can also use apps to play soothing sounds such as rain, a crackling fire or the sea.


Smell is a particularly grounding sense that we can draw on to elicit positive memories or comfort. For example, the smell of fresh laundry, your favourite scented candle, fresh flowers, of baked goods or the smell of the outdoors after it has rained or the grass has been cut.


We can engage in self-soothing through our sense of taste, by sampling comforting, delicious, warm or cool drinks and food. We may use foods with happy associations such as childhood memories of eating ice cream, by treating ourselves to special meals, or drinking a comforting warm drink such as hot chocolate. Try to savour the flavours in the moment.


Use comforting textures and sensations to bring about a sense of soothing. For example, the feeling of a soft blanket, a hot shower or bath, stroking your pet, or of getting into a freshly made bed.


Referred to as the ‘sixth’ sense, we can use movement to elicit a sense of soothing also. For some people, being able to dance or move unreservedly elicits a sense of calm and freedom. Running or stretching can also be effective.

Try experimenting with varying sensory tools to find what works for you during moments of crisis. You may choose to develop a self-soothe kit or write a list of sensory activities you can engage in when distressed. After you practice them, ask yourself “Did using this skill help me to cope with uncomfortable feelings and urges?”.  

Written by Dr Emily Smyth, Clinical Psychologist & Saiyuri Naidu, Assistant Psychologist