I volunteered for a season at an Equine Therapy facility. Yes, it was like literal blue donkeys in a way. When I started it was so I could help manage my own emotional balance (and I highly recommend it) and soon was teaching coping skills with the help of some amazing 4-legged friends to some of the clients. Using the senses to calm yourself is exactly what it sounds like, mindfully working through vision, smell, touch, taste, and hearing.
You are welcome to visualize being at “the ranch” with me or use your current location as we go through the exercise. I am going to share a couple of the ways we did the exercise. It was about the learning the skill and having fun at the same time.
Flash was a 20+-year-old quarter horse with quite a sense of humor and perfect for helping to teach skills due to his patience. As my client brushed Flash we went through the different senses. We spend about a half hour working through the activity:
- Vision – what can you see? He talked about the hair looking different when he brushed in different directions
- Hearing – what do you hear? He talked about Flash snorting, the sound his tail made brushing away flies, and his stomping hoof
- Smell – what do you smell? Yes, he was an older youth, he talked about the horse poop.
- Touch – what do you feel? He talked about the coarseness of the different brushes, the difference in the body hair and mane hair on Flash. We spent a lot of time on this one as it also allowed us to work on our observe and describe skill more.
- Taste – do you taste anything? He said that he got dirt in his mouth when brushing out Flash.
So this is one example that we did. You might wonder how that would apply and here is what happened a few weeks later. Before the session, this client came to me sharing that he had been at school and had become very anxious. He said, “Usually I get mad and start causing trouble and then get kicked out of class but this time I closed my eyes and pictured brushing Flash and remembering what it felt like and all that stuff and I breathed and then I was ok and I didn’t get in trouble.” He would continue to tell me things like this throughout our time working together which were affirmed by his teachers.
You can use your senses at any time to practice this skill so that you can utilize it when needed. Carrie Elizabeth Lin, LCPC near San Jose, California shared the following tips when it comes to making the most of self-soothing. She notes, “self-soothing is an effective tool, but as with all DBT skills it takes practice to get the most out of it.” Here are her tips:
- Be open and experiment. Try self-soothing through different senses and a variety of activities.
- Be mindful. When you self-soothe, breathe and stay aware of the present moment and the effect the sensations are having on you.
- When you have time, create entire “self-soothing experiences” that use several senses at once. For example, take a scented bubble bath with lit candles; sip some herbal tea while using a heated shoulder wrap and listening to soft music, or go for a relaxing walk in a beautiful spot in nature.
- Make a self-soothing kit you can turn to in times of crisis. Keep a variety of objects in it like fragrances, CDs, and pretty pictures, as well as a list of self-soothing activities you enjoy. You can even make a “mini-kit” to carry in your bag or car.
- Practice at times you are not in crisis. That way, the skills will be more ingrained and easier to apply when you are in crisis. In addition, practicing regular self-soothing can help keep you calm and centered, so that you’re less likely to encounter avoidable crisis situations.
Here are some ideas to help get you started:
- Go to the park, lake or beach to view the beauty of nature
- Clean house or organize a messy area. Restoring a sense of order can be calming.
- Create art
- Sit at an outdoor cafe or the hotel of a beautiful old hotel and watch people
- Go to an art gallery
- Watch a favorite movie or television series that always makes you laugh
- Play soothing music
- Call a friend or family member. The sound of another voice can often be calming.
- Go someplace quiet, like a library or a bookstore
- Light a scented candle
- Lavishly bathe yourself in scented bath oil, perfume, and scented lotions
- Bake bread or cook some food that fills the house with a wonderful aroma
- Eat an orange
- Bake cookies, cake or bread. The more elaborate the process the better.
- Put whipped cream on your coffee
- Get a massage
- Do yoga
- Soak in a warm bath
- Take a bubble bath
- Take a nap
- Go for a walk or run
- Stand in the rain or under a waterfall
- Work in the garden
- Pet your cat or dog
- Wrap yourself in a very comfortable blanket
- Sit in the sun and let it warm you