Finding Skills to Soothe Other Than Food
Food is the skill we commonly use to soothe ourselves when life gets messy, stress levels soar and emotions feel uncomfortable.
The problem is every time we use food as a skill to cope, we reinforce urges and create a habit. Overtime it starts to feel automatic – I’m feeling upset, I grab the cookies, I eat, I feel immediate relief. But than what? Often the momentary relief is accompanied by feelings of shame, guilt, disappointment or anger.
In order to break this cycle it’s important to develop new skills for tolerating distress and emotional discomfort. As long as you keep using food as the primary skill to tolerate distress than the cycle won’t stop and the pattern won’t change.
In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), these skills are called Distress Tolerance Skills. They are tools to help us survive crises, accept life as it is in the moment and get through a situation that we cannot control or change. It’s important to remember that distress tolerance skills are not about changing our reality or even making us feel better! They allow us to accept our reality and tolerate the situations without engaging in the problematic behavior that will make us feel worse.
Distress Tolerance Skills can be divided into skills that distract us from our distress, skills that soothe us through our senses and skills that help to improve the moment. Here are a few examples below to get you started!
Activities: cleaning, journaling, organizing a drawer or watching TV.
Thinking of others: calling a friend, writing a letter or volunteering.
Sensations: lighting a candle, having a warm bath, or lighting incense.
You can focus on all 5 senses: smelling lotion, listening to music, drinking tea, observing the sky, or cuddling a soft blanket.
Improve the moment by visualizing a peaceful place, find meaning in your current struggle or be your own cheerleader (“I can do this!”)
The important thing to remember with these skills is that we need to practice, practice, practice! If you really don’t like one, try another and than another. At first, it will likely feel unnatural to use these skills during a crisis; however, the more you practice the more accessible they will be when you need them the most!