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Self-Soothing in Addiction Recovery

FB Self Soothing

In recent years, the idea of addiction as an urge to self-soothe has gained traction. Addiction has historically been seen as self-destructive, but it can mean taking care of ourselves in the best way we know at the time. We think we’re protecting ourselves from emotional pain, but active addiction ends up causing more pain.

Self-soothing is the way we ground ourselves when we are stressed, overwhelmed, or feeling other difficult emotions. In recovery, we can learn tools for doing so that don’t involve drinking or using drugs. There are many ways to make ourselves feel better that are constructive rather than destructive. 

Self-Soothing Through the Breath and Senses

In moments of heightened stress, there are things you can do to calm your body and mind. One helpful strategy is to notice five things you see, smell, hear, and touch. You can do exercises like square breathing, which is when you breathe in for a slow count of four, hold for four, breathe out for a slow count of four, and hold for four. 

Progressive muscle relaxation is when you purposely tense muscles that hurt and then slowly release. You can pay attention to the sensation of your feet on the ground, or do intentional stretching.

Longer-Term Methods of Self-Soothing

When you’re in a prolonged period of stress, staying connected to your support system can be really helpful. Mutual support can be healing, but it’s okay if at particular points you need more support than you’re able to give. It’s also okay if sometimes what soothes you is being alone. 

Engaging in flow state activities–basically, something that puts you “in the zone”–can also feel soothing because it takes you out of your head a bit and shuts off parts of your brain involved in self-monitoring.

Nature is soothing for many people. It can promote calm and make you feel a sense of connectedness. It can be comforting when you’re caught up in the stressors of daily life.

The urge to self-soothe is not bad; it’s very useful and human. It’s an urge to help ourselves, but it becomes unhelpful when we’re using drugs or alcohol—or anything else that causes pain—to deal with this impulse. There are many self-soothing methods that can further our healing and recovery.