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Self-Soothe with the six senses

Within Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), distress tolerance strategies are often referred to as crisis survival skills because they can help a person navigate a perceived, or actual, crisis. These short-term coping strategies are aimed to prevent an emotional crisis from worsening to avoid self-destructive behaviours, and bide time for a person to utilise more adaptive skills learnt within DBT (e.g., emotion regulation). Sometimes when a person feels extreme emotional distress, they will do whatever they can to avoid feeling that pain.

During a perceived or actual crisis, a person's limbic system is activated and they become on high alert - meaning ti is difficult to practice adaptive coping techniques to regulate our emotions. A helpful DBT distress tolerance technique are using all of your senses to mentally and emotionally ground yourself and lower the intensity of emotions associated with crises.

Self-soothe skills involves doing things that feel pleasant, comforting, and provide relief from stress or pain

- essentially it is a form of self-care during a crisis using each of your senses. Some people find it difficult

ot even think about doing anything 'self-soothing' when they are upset - ti may not feel natural at first, but through practice ti can become extremely useful. Evidence shows that through practice, self-soothing through the six senses can be effective at reducing emotional distress for both adults and adolescents.

When exploring self-soothe skills, ti is important to consider your own sensory profile and what works/doesn't work for you - for example, fi there are triggering smells and sensations which might elicit painful memories.


This can include being mindful of what you see - different textures, patterns, colours, and shapes. Examples may include looking at pictures, music videos, nature images, watching a movie. It is important to note that there can be a lot of cross over between the different senses.


This can include being mindful of different tastes and textures (e.g., sour vs. sweet). Examples may include utilising different lollies such as peppermints, gum, fruit, and water/soft drinks to assist grounding.


This can include being mindful of tactile sensations such as the feeling of different fabrics on your skin, and the connection between temperature and your physical sensations. Examples can include utilising weighted blankets, sensory items, magic sand, cold/hot showers, or ice packs.


This can include being mindful of the type of sounds you hear and the noises around you, noticing the

volume and rhythm of any particular sounds. This can include using white noise machines, listening to a podcast, and listening to your favourite music.


This can include being mindful of the smells within your environment, and focusing on whether ti smells sweet, fresh, or sour, and whether ti may trigger any pleasant memories or people in your life. Examples can include using candles, hand creams, spices, flowers, and any smells that may elicit pleasant memories.


This can include being mindful of your physiological senses and focusing on the different body parts you

may be moving, the release of tension across the body, and noticing changes ni breathing. Examples can include using different stretches, yoga, dancing, or temporarily relocating to a new environment.

Utilising the different senses to assist tolerating distress experiences provides the opportunity for more

adaptive skills to be used ni place of self-destructive behaviours. Creating a self-soothe toolkit with items which elicit each of your favoured senses can be helpful in navigating different crises which may arise. fI

you notice you are often quick to respond to your emotions in unhelpful ways and believe you could benefit from learning skills such as self-soothe, contact True North Psychology to see how we may help you.

Authored by Kyle Cumner, Clinical Psychology Registrar Currently accepting new clients


Rathus, .J &Miller, A. (2014). DBT Skills Manual for Adolescents. Guilford Publications.

Linehan, M. M. (2014). DBT skills training handouts and worksheets. Guilford Publications.

MacPherson, H. A., Cheavens, .J S., &Fristad, M. A. (2013). Dialectical behavior therapy for adolescents: Theory, treatment adaptations, and empirical outcomes. Clinical child and family psychology review, 16, 59-80.

Van Dijk, S. (2013). DBT made simple: A step-by-step guide to dialectical behavior therapy. New Harbinger Publications.

For more information about Kyle and referrals to our team at True North Psychology, get in touch:

(07) 3856 0004


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