Learning the art of self-comforting

We all learned different self-comforting skills from our parents or carers.  In adulthood, we have to train ourselves to fill in the gaps. Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

Many people with anxiety have regular meltdowns, where their feelings spiral out of control.  Panic attacks are a common feature of the anxious world – they can end up feeling like heart attacks, the effect on the anatomy can be so severe.

Watch a child get into a state about something, and you can see how the spiral happens.  Maybe it starts with the mild feeling of wanting something.  When that desired thing is withheld, the inner feeling of frustration escalates, until the body’s physiology takes over, and the child is locked into a meltdown state.


When you are young, if you are lucky you have parents or guardians to help you in the act of self-calming.  They will teach you several ways to comfort yourself when you are in distress.  These commonplace techniques can include:

  • taking a deep breath
  • getting distracted onto something else
  • learning to laugh about it
  • using transitional objects, such as teddy bears, to cuddle for comfort
  • talking rationally about your distress
If you were unlucky, your parents, guardians or peers may have taught youself-harming ways of reacting to anxiety, such as drink, smoking, drugs, overeating, violence and fits of anger.


In adulthood, if you are lucky you may bump into people to help you develop your self-calming skills.  These are just grown-up versions of the same childhood tactics, so we give them different names:

  • taking a deep breath perhaps becomes meditating
  • getting distracted onto something else becomes having a healthy hobby
  • learning to laugh about it becomes having relaxed times with friends
  • the transitional objects to cuddle can still be teddy bears, but may also become sofas, cushions, pets, and other tactile humans
  • talking rationally becomes counselling, or talking things over

Even as an adult, I get into a state of anxiety, because I want the world to be different.  I want possessions.  I want security.  I want to feel that I am OK.  When it does not happen easily, I can feel my body becoming overexcited with frustration and concern.  This can spiral into panic.

How did my childhood teach me to react to my own anxiety?  Did I learn bad habits, such as drinking, smoking, overeating, violence, fits of anger?

How do I react to my own anxiety now?  Am I a good self-comforter?  If not, can I train myself to be a better one?  Can I learn to meditate with accpetance?  Can I find activities which use my energy wisely?  Have I set aside time to relax with friends?  Do I let myself relax on the sofa?  Do I allow myself comforting physical contact with others?  From time to time, do I organise counselling for myself, or chats with a trusted friend?

How do I look after myself?  Am I good at self-comforting?  Have I learned to manage my own anxiety with sensible self-care?