Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy used for the treatment of various illnesses and behavioral challenges from depression, to anxiety, anger/irritability, to bipolar disorder symptoms, personality disorders, and more. This therapy features various coping techniques to deal with these challenges falling under modules such as mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness (click DBT therapy for more information). In this post I’d like to focus on the distress tolerance skill “Self-soothing with the five senses”, and how I’ve used it in the past.
I found that mindfully concentrating on pleasant sights, smells, sounds, tastes, and touch have curbed my anxiety to various degrees, and even helped alleviate past depression a bit, at least temporarily. Part of the reason was that actively focusing on my senses has helped turn my mind away from more negative thoughts. Another reason is that often the delights experienced through my senses have boosted my mood, or at least relaxed it a bit. I’ve found that some actions stimulate more than one sense at a time. That seems to have an even greater affect.
Smell – The term aromatherapy was originated in 1937 by a French chemist Rene-Maurice Gattefosse out of his curiosity of the healing powers of essential oils, but special fragrances were used for such well before his time. Simple fragrant bath products can often serve similar purposes. The other day I took a warm bath in chamomile lavender bubble bath that soothed me through both my sense of smell and touch. Or sometimes I take my mind off my worries by turning my mind to baking. The smell of cinnamon baking in a pie gives me pleasure, and delights my sense of taste. Even a walk out in the fresh air can be invigorating and delightful. There are earthy smells, and maybe lingering flower fragrances. Ocean smells are also nice, in my opinion.
Vision – Focusing my sight on pleasant things can sometimes bring a smile to my face. For example, the sight of a hummingbird drinking nectar from bright flowers is endearing. Concentrating on a favorite painting prompts pleasant daydreaming, giving me a small reprieve from dysfunctional thinking. The beauty or cuteness of a pet or child can remind you of beauty in this world and their need for you.
Hearing – Softly spoken loving words can sooth or excite. My favorite comedy show can sometimes break through stress by providing a release/relief through laughter. Beethoven is my favorite composer/music writer. Who is yours? We all know music’s effects can be powerful.
Taste – I will refer back to that pie with cinnamon. Mmm! I slowly take a bite and concentrate on the sweetness. With taste usually comes an olfactory experience, as well. Double delight!
Touch – Ask for a hug and kiss (or more) when you need it. It can be from anyone you’re close to, including a furry pet or a soft pillow. Massage, the movement of dance, or sensual touch can prickle the skin and create goosebumps and pleasurable shock waves from head to foot. When touching, use your sense of smell to breath in your loved one deeply. Look at the love in their eyes, or look deep in them eye to eye. Enjoy the taste of them. Concentrate on their breathing or sweet murmurs. It can be a beautiful sensory symphony.
Obviously some people’s psychological and stress challenges are particularly great. If one coping technique falls short of the desired effect, practicing multiple techniques may turn out to be helpful. The point is to practice them, and continue practicing them. Self-soothing through senses can even be done from the office chair or the warmth of your bed. You need only concentrate in the moment.