I am always on the lookout for the best self-soothing activities for anxiety. I’ve suffered from anxiety (as well as depression and BPD) for over a decade, so I know just how difficult intense emotions can be to handle.
In my turbulent teens and early twenties, I tried everything I could to calm my out-of-control anxiety, from substance abuse to total isolation. Of course, my anxiety only got 10x worse. I would suffer from debilitating panic attacks that would leave me mentally-exhausted and completely vulnerable to the vicious anxiety cycle.
I thought it would take some divine, complex concoction to manage my anxiety, especially when even medication didn’t help. However, a couple of years ago I started doing some simple self-soothing activities to try and calm down my intense panic attacks – and now my anxiety is more manageable than ever!
What Is Self-Soothing?
Self-soothing is a tool that we can use to calm ourselves down in times of heightened anxiety or stress. It has immediate and long-term benefits, providing us with the safe mental environment that we need to process and heal.
The ability to self-soothe is something we learn naturally in infancy (I was a defiant thumb-sucker for way too long) but as adults it is easy for us to resort to negative coping mechanisms rather than positive self-soothing techniques.
Some negative self-soothing activities for anxiety include food-bingeing, self-harm, excessive spending, drug abuse – you get the idea!
If you have anxiety (or any fear-based mental health condition) you know just how distressing it can become. Just one intrusive negative thought can trigger another, and another, until you’re entangled in a web of your worst nightmares.
Your emotions can become so overwhelming that they can trigger panic attacks, disassociation, impulsive behaviour and more.
Next time you feel really anxious, try doing some of these self-soothing activities for anxiety. My favourite is number 5!
Self-Soothing Activities For Anxiety
1 – Do Some Colouring!
Adult colouring books have gained recent popularity for their scientifically-proven ability to reduce anxiety and stress. The repetitive but engaging nature of colouring promotes relaxation and calm, distancing us from overwhelming negative thoughts. It is an excellent mindful activity and has meditative qualities, so you should definitely pick up an adult colouring book if you haven’t already!
You can even get swear-word colouring books to appease your naughty inner child!
2 – Listen To Soothing Music
Music can have a huge influence over your mood, so it’s unsurprising that certain sounds are renowned for calming anxiety. Nature playlists and piano instrumentals are popular because they encourage mindfulness and relaxation, helping to relive tension in the body. Making a playlist specifically for times of high anxiety is brilliant for fast relief.
How we listen to music is also incredibly important. Loud, thumping music may help to drown out negative thoughts for some, while it can actually heighten anxiety for others.
3 – Do Some Breathing Exercises
“Breathing is the number one and most effective technique for reducing anger and anxiety quickly,”Scott Dehorty
If you’re prone to panic attacks and overwhelming negative thoughts, closing your eyes and taking deep breaths is a great way to calm your hammering heart and ground yourself at the same time. There are plenty of different kinds of breathing exercises that you can try too.
Pursed lip breathing works the best for my anxiety!
4 – Practise Grounding Techniques
Grounding is a technique used to combat overwhelming and distressing anxiety. It works by instructing your mind to focus on an aspect of your physical world rather than your overwhelming thoughts, utilising your body’s senses to coax you out of your web of negative thoughts.
Holding an ice-pack to your forehead, digging your heels into the floor or using the 5-4-3-2-1 techniques are all fast ways to ground yourself in the present moment and soothe your anxiety. You can learn more about grounding techniques here.
5 – Cuddle A Pet
Stroking or playing with a pet is an extremely effective self-soothing activity. Animals have an adorable little habit of directing our attention away from chaotic thoughts. While you’re stroking them, pay close attention to their warmth, the texture of their fur and the snuffling sounds they make.
Purring cats are especially relaxing!
6 – Stroke Something Soft and Fluffy
If you don’t have a pet to cuddle up with, a blanket or cuddly toy can provide satisfactory relief too. Weighted blankets are popular for calming down anxiety attacks, and you can get all kinds of handy, stress-relieving toys
7 – Get Some Air
Hot and stuffy rooms can increase anxiety, while the cooler outside air can help to regulate your breathing. I find that my anxiety often calms down when I sit in the garden for a few minutes, especially if it’s a bit chilly!
8 – Light Some Scented Candles
Your favourite smell can work wonders for your mental health. Certain scents like lavender and lemon are renowned for their calming qualities, but any scent that you really love can help to relieve anxiety, panic and stress.
You can use scented candles, essential oils, incense, wax melts, sprays, perfumes – or even smell some fresh flowers! There’s enough choice for you to experiment and see what you like best.
9 – Have A Hot Bath
It’s on every single self-care list – and for good reason!
Research shows that submerging your body in hot water can help to regulate your breathing, relieving symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks. Not only that, but your skin reacts to hot water by releasing the same feel-good endorphins that we associate with sunbathing, making it an incredibly therapeutic self-soothing activity for anxiety.
For maximum relaxation, add some essential oils or a scented bath bomb – and don’t forget the bubbles!
10 – Repeat Positive Affirmations
Repeating positive affirmations daily is one of my favourite self-soothing activities for anxiety.
Positive affirmations are short, positive statements (such as “I am in control”) that work to re-align your negative mindset and tackle negative core beliefs. While they are great for long-term anxiety management, they also offer immediate relief from overwhelming distress. By repeating positive affirmations when you’re feeling extremely anxious, you can redirect your thoughts to a positive place.
These self-soothing activities may be specifically for anxiety, but they are great for other conditions too. I’ve found they can help with my BPD and can sometimes even calm violent depressive thoughts. And, of course, they work great for relieving stress!
Got any other self-soothing activities for anxiety? Don’t forget to let me know in the comments!