Accessible self-soothing & coping strategies

| January 12, 2021
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Self-soothing activities are an effective way to help you feel calm and manage your emotions.  

Before engaging in a self-soothing activity, you will first want to name how you are feeling. For instance, “I am feeling sad, upset, angry, or hopeless.” 

When you can’t pinpoint your exact feelings, use the Calm Feelings Wheel (see below) to explore and discover the adjectives that align with how you are feeling in this momentNotice where the words you have chosen are placed on the circle (closer to the middle or closer to the outside)If you find you are choosing adjectives that are closer to the outer part of the circle, you are experiencing more intense feelings that may require you to spend more time engaging in self-soothing activities to feel calm. 

A multicolored wheel with adjectives that describe feelings

By understanding and recognizing where you are on the spectrum of emotions, you are practicing self-awareness. Self-awareness can help guide you to a coping or self-soothing activity that is right. Here are some ideas of self-soothing activities to put in your toolbox.


Whether it’s a book, a blog post, or a positive magazine article, reading can help you refocus your attention and reduce stress. Just remember to avoid negative and stress-inducing articles.


Start a mindfulness or gratitude journal to help you feel a sense of control over the current feelings or situation. Writing our thoughts around a specific event, or certain feelings you are experiencing can facilitate deeper reflection and greater self-knowledge. (There are journaling tools in the Calm app, which is free to all Hopkins affiliates. If you’re not already using Calm, you can access it from this page. Don’t download directly from the App Store or Google Play.)

Listen or Watch.

Take a 10-minute break listening to soothing music, or relatable or interesting podcasts. Watching funny YouTube videos can also help you feel less stressed during the day. 


Sometimes we just need to move our bodies. Attend a virtual exercise class with JHU Recreation or the Cooley Center or take a 15-minute yoga break. Go for a run or a walk. It doesn’t have to be a structured exercise, just movement that brings you joy.


Allowing time for activities that cultivate play and enjoyment is part of self-care. Often, we feel pressure to be productive, with class work, research, work, student involvement, or anything else. Play should include time spent without purpose, and should be something you don’t want to end. Ideas of play include video games, dancing, virtual games with friends, playing an instrument, and singing. Look at GuidePost #7 on Brene Brown’s “Guideposts for Wholehearted Living” to learn more about play. 

Practice grounding.

When you are feeling anxious or nervous about something, grounding techniques can help you feel safer. Here are some examples:

  • Use your senses. Look around the space you’re in, and find five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, and two things you can smell. 
  • Count. Focus on counting how many objects in a room are a certain color. You can repeat this with another color until you feel calmer
  • Keep a sensory fidget. Keep with you a grounding rock, fidget toy, or other small object that you can bring out and touch when you are feeling overwhelmed. Focusing on the object’s texture while intentionally breathing (see below) can help you refocus your attention
  • Breathe. Intentionally focusing on your breath and allowing your exhalations to be longer than your inhalations can relax you. Use the Calm app for breathing exercises or check out this video or website or use this belly breathing exercise below.  
  • Belly Breathing. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest and take a long exhale, emptying out all the air. As you inhale, allow your belly and ribs to expand, while lengthening your spine. Once you practice this breathing, start to slow down the breath allowing your inhales to take four counts, pausing, and then exhale for six counts.
  • Practice self-compassion and use affirmations. Self-compassion includes being understanding and gentle with yourself when things are not going right, or you don’t meet your expectations. Reminding yourself of everything you have achieved, your talents, your worth are simple affirmations to help build self-compassion. If you are wanting more guidance, listen to this self-compassion meditation from Calm.
  • Compartmentalize stressors. List the things you are stressed about into either “things I can control” or “things I can’t control.” This activity is a reminder that some stressors you can work through and resolve, and others you aren’t able to control. The latter are the ones that need self-soothing.
  • Seek support. Sometimes we need a little extra help to build and find coping strategies that work. In addition, if you are experiencing intense emotions that are located on the outer area of the Feelings Wheel you may want more guidance from mental health professionals. Make an appointment with the Counseling Center or use TimelyMD a virtual tool that provides you with mental health professionals you can talk with now or to find counselors in your area to have scheduled sessions with.  

Additional Resources

*These pages are maintained by offices connected to Homewood Student Affairs and may mention resources that are available only to Homewood students.