Seeking small comforts during anxious times (or anytime!)
February 22, 2018 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I find myself engaging in small comforting tasks or routines when I’m feeling anxious (or to ward off anxious feelings before they hit). Small things that make me feel safe. I’m realizing how meaningful these are for me and am hoping to integrate more small comforts into my daily life.

I’m wondering if you have developed small habits or routines that make you feel safe, calm, or just less anxious. Some of my favorites are: spraying my pillow with a lavender/vanilla mix before bed, being under a heavy quilt or thick comforter (I feel safe under there), re-reading “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris for the millionth time, or putting some Mentholatum / Vick’s under my nose (even when not sick). Some of these things are comforting just because they are routines, not because they’re intrinsically calming.

As a kid, we would stay with family in the middle of the woods, and my asthma would get triggered by the pets in the house (this was really stressful for me). I remember finding comfort in reading a Carl Jung book; at the time, I found it so boring that it helped me fall asleep. Can you share yours?
posted by sucre to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 81 users marked this as a favorite
Here's my list of random comforting things during stressful times -
- take a nap
- drink a cup of coffee
- read good poetry
- wrap up in a warm blanket
- take a walk
- write in my journal
- walk through a plant nursery
- get a pedicure
- get a massage
- water my plants
posted by eleslie at 9:48 AM on February 22, 2018

Re-reading comforting books (I know what's going to happen, so: no anxiety)

Re-watching comforting movies (same)

Hot showers (+ other self-care like lotion, grooming, trimming nails)

Small household chores often work for me, especially if I put on music I love and sing to it while I clean dishes or whatever. Movement + music in general is very distracting in a good way. Dusting is good because it's low-intensity. I keep the duster out where I can see it.

Noodling on the piano or other instrument (if you have one)

If the weather allows, short walk outside

I have "stories" that I work on in my head to fall asleep; they are actually more like utopic ideas for how the world could be/what it would look like. Any comforting narrative would work though.

If I need to bore myself, I often also try to list, in minute detail, my morning routine. Get up. Brush teeth. Shower. Do hair. Put on shirt. Put on pants. etc. etc. It's so boring but also reassuring.
posted by emjaybee at 9:52 AM on February 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

Vacuuming every day.

Going to yoga class (get a pass so you can drop in to class anytime.)
posted by jbenben at 10:03 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hitting pause on life for just 5 minutes to just breathe.

Go on walks and just pay attention to things around me/listen to the birds/watch small children playing.

Petting really friendly neighborhood cats (there's an orange one who magically materializes whenever I tend to have a tough time)

Playing a mindless little puzzle game (Bejeweled-like but less dazzly and shiny)

Driving through the countryside.

Make someone else smile, preferably a stranger.
posted by astapasta24 at 10:11 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

When I'm having an anxious day, I walk my three dogs. It makes me exercise a tiny bit and focus entirely on the dogs and the environment.

Also, sometimes I'll water the plants/lawn while listening to an audiobook.
posted by answergrape at 10:15 AM on February 22, 2018

I find ironing to be calming and soothing, to the point of saving it to do on a "bad day". I love the smell of hot cotton, and how smooth and lovely things look after being ironed.

Rereading books!!

Cleaning & polishing shoes and boots.

Weeding my herb garden.

Brushing cats.

A freshly made bed.

These are the things I can
do to comfort and calm myself.
posted by LaBellaStella at 10:20 AM on February 22, 2018

I have a weighted blanket that I love.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 10:20 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I make myself a cup of tea. The ritual parts are:
Same kind of tea (I use PG Tips)
Same mug
Steep for 3 minutes (I use a timer)
Add two packets of Splenda and a splash of milk
Then I sit in a comfortable chair and sip it.

Also, when I am out of the house, I have this little plush totoro in my purse, and I can peek at it or even take it out and I find it soothing.

Now you know all my secrets.
posted by tuesdayschild at 10:29 AM on February 22, 2018 [10 favorites]

I have 3 favorite poems open in browser tabs at all times and when I'm anxious or stressed I re-read them.
posted by elvissa at 10:42 AM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

What a great question—I will be reading responses with interest!

As a couple of folks have mentioned above, I also re-read favorite books when i’m stressed. There’s something about the familiarity that’s so soothing—plus if I’m stressed out I’m not really going to retain anything new.
I also find it calming to spend time with my cat in stressful times—just petting her and hearing her purr is soothing.
A really brisk walk at my local wildlife preserve is also calming to me and helps me sleep when I’m stressed.
posted by bookmammal at 10:47 AM on February 22, 2018

- soft fuzzy hat and/or scarf
- getting outside even if it's just to stand on my porch and look at things
- fresh socks
- really nice shower/bath w/ good smelling stuff
- good cup of coffee
- burning some incense
- redo my hair (I have long hair in a braid or bun or something, changing it up is calming)
posted by jessamyn at 11:04 AM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is a really comforting thread to read.


-Hold one of our animals
-Warm beverage - coffee in the morning, or lemon ginger tea in the evening
-Or a cold IPA in one of my favorite glasses
-Star Trek: The Next Generation
-Light candles and/or incense
-Scented lotion on my hands
-Blanket. Maybe multiple blankets.
-Heated neck wrap
-Harry Potter audiobooks

This is more for depression, but I'm trying to make it a permanent part of my work routine:

-Put on headphones and go dance to an upbeat song for five minutes
posted by missrachael at 11:12 AM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

- Antiques Roadshow
- Lighting a shit-ton of herbal-scented candles
- Sifting through pretty recipes online
- Judge John Hodgman Podcast makes me laugh and feel uplifted, every time
- Snipping off my split ends
- Taking care of my apartment
- Grocery shopping (and making grocery lists)
- Falling asleep to The British History Podcast
- Listening to some heady music (Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Boards of Canada, etc)
posted by functionequalsform at 11:15 AM on February 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

-taking walks and listening to podcasts
-playing/fidgeting with my boyfriend’s old college ring
posted by raccoon409 at 11:20 AM on February 22, 2018

-cocoa butter (smelling or putting some on)
-putting on more layers (incl socks and gloves) so I feel warm
-chatty podcasts
-holding something warm; a mug with hot water in it
posted by typify at 11:24 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I have a very short playlist of peaceful songs. Sometimes even that is too much stimulation so I just listen to the Dixie Chicks' version of Landslide on repeat.

On a bad day I take a shower or at least change my underwear and put on some comfy clothes that also make me feel good about my body.

Shaving my legs makes me feel good as well.
posted by Emmy Rae at 11:35 AM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

There are a couple of cheap paperbacks that I turn to only in two very specific situations:

* Sarum by Edward Rutherford comes out when I am sick. It's sort of episodic, so I can just reread some specific favorite chapters; each is like a little novella, so it's not too long, and I can just read a complete story and have the option of choosing "do I want something set in prehistory or the Middle Ages or the Victorian Era or what?" But it's not too taxing, so it's perfect for when I'm sick.

* Maeve Binchy's Circle of Friends comes out when I've had a breakup. The main characters are two childhood friends, and they each fall in love over the course of the book; one has family drama, and the other has a hellish breakup herself. But, crucially, the girl with family drama finds that the bigger drama than her boyfriend, and is able to support her friend; and the girl with the breakup does not get back with her ex, and in fact she is able to get over him. It's quietly comforting that way, and ends with her sort of finally coming to a point where she realizes that she's kind of over him because all her other friends are there and that's what really matters, yay.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:14 PM on February 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

Lying on my back on the floor at the end of my bed so my feet are elevated (propped against the bed); this is relaxing and good for the body. I play soothing music and my dog cuddles up to me and I just lie there stretching a bit and petting him.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 12:23 PM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

I make soup. I know that sounds a little weird, and maybe it is, but I find it so soothing to just make soup from scratch. It's almost meditative, maybe because I do the same soup every time so I barely need to pay attention. It's just my thing. I like being able to cook something without being rushed or stressed, and I feel like that comes through in the soup. I can always tell when a dish has been made by someone in a state of anger. It doesn't taste right. Maybe you'd enjoy being calm and doing something similar, even though it's little more involved than some of the other suggestions made here so far.
posted by Hermione Granger at 12:33 PM on February 22, 2018 [8 favorites]

functionequalsform, I feel the same way about Judge John Hodgman! I think it's soothing to me because it has a standard format, recurring jokes, and Hodgman has some well-known, defined principles, so I feel comforted by the structure. It's not at all predictable, but the routine part of it is part of what I like.
posted by radioamy at 12:47 PM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Tidying up and/or repotting houseplants can be soothing and productive.
posted by vegartanipla at 12:47 PM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh just reading this thread is soothing.
Mine are:
* Wearing these fuzzy socks that have lotion in the fibers
* rewatching Father Brown on Netflix
* Hot chocolate in my favorite mug
* Watering my plants, taking pictures of them and comparing them to old pics to see if they've grown
* Listening to my favorite ASMR video by Latte ASMR
* Pusheen the cat: looking at gifs, squeezing my Pusheen plushie, looking at tags of Pusheen on Instagram
posted by ilovewinter at 1:00 PM on February 22, 2018 [4 favorites]

*A couple of rounds of Duolingo- learning a new language is just complicated enough that I can't think about anything else
*Having a nice ride around in Red Dead Redemption
*Reading recipes and menu planning
posted by threetwentytwo at 1:33 PM on February 22, 2018

Putting my clothes or pajamas in the dryer for a couple of minutes to warm them up before I put them on. Running a space heater in my small bathroom for a few minutes with the door shut, then going in without turning on the light so I can just stand in the warm, dark, quiet space for as long as I need. Turning off my phone.
posted by a fish out of water at 1:35 PM on February 22, 2018 [5 favorites]

Hot bath (especially with Epsom salts); cocoa; making chai or another warming, spicy tea, and drinking it out in the yard.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:11 PM on February 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

ilovewinter, this is the cutest thing I've ever read:

* Watering my plants, taking pictures of them and comparing them to old pics to see if they've grown

posted by Emmy Rae at 2:46 PM on February 22, 2018 [8 favorites]

Warm milk or warm weak cocoa made with milk
Listening to music that has a lullaby tempo
Singing lullabies to yourself such as Tom Waits "On the Nickel"
Doing easy stretches to dreamy slow tempo music
Changing into pajamas
Looking at picture books or reading children's books
Massaging your feet
Tucking the dolls or teddy bears up in bed
Closing all the curtains and turning on the after-dark lights which leave the house in twilight
Combing your hair
Wrapping up in a soft and silky plush throw
Sending short loving and reassuring messages to friends or family
Being barefoot in the grass
Eating comfort food such as rice pudding or custard
Copying out and memorizing short poems, for example Jenny Kissed Me
Curling up with a dog, or lover and reading while in physical contact
posted by Jane the Brown at 2:49 PM on February 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

* Cooking in general!

* I've not done it enough for myself lately, but listening to Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. It's stripped-down instrumentally - most songs are just guitar, bass, maybe some percussion and Van singing - and it's a gumbo of 60's folk and jazz and Celtic mysticism that is unlike anything else he ever did and unlike anything else you ever heard. I especially recommend Sweet Thing if you're feeling nostalgic for being young on summer nights (there's a lyric in it that reminds me of that aimless driving around on summer nights that you do in high school and college with your friends: "I shall drive my chariot down your streets and cry, "Hey, it's me, I'm dynamite and I don't know why"); and the title song is perfect. ("....Ain't nothing but a stranger in this a home on high in another land...")
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:29 PM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

- Jigsaw puzzles. They are absorbing and comforting and make me feel better.
- Petting and scritching the kitty so that he purrs, ideally with my head against his side so I can hear/feel the rumble.
- Holding a body pillow around my shoulders so that it is a little bit like being hugged.
- Rewatching one of the cheerfuller Studio Ghibli films like Totoro or Spirited Away.
- Comfort rereads: many but the first two that spring to mind are The Beacon at Alexandria by Gillian Bradshaw and Beauty by Robin McKinley. Both are old and beloved friends.
- Trees and water. Just being near them.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:54 PM on February 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

Walking on the beach. If it’s too cold just being there for a few minutes helps.
Rereading favorite books.
British TV
A little pot helps my anxiety.
posted by CINDERELLEN at 4:50 AM on February 23, 2018

I have a Spotify playlist that I listen to with headphones that really help me. For me it is mellow ambient instrumental music.
posted by Justin Case at 8:21 AM on February 23, 2018

I like to listen to Car Talk, rub my face into a soft duvet or my enormous stuffed koala's ears, look at cute cats / animals on Instagram, and blow soap bubbles.
posted by batter_my_heart at 10:49 PM on February 23, 2018

Similar to podcasts, certain youtube people have videos I find comforting/distracting/cheering, in the last five or so years . (For me: meditation videos from Psychetruth; Andre Meadows and Lindsay Ellis mocking the live-action Transformers movies; moviebob's Really That Good episode on the animated Transformers movie; several different TableTop epsiodes from Geek and Sundry.)
posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 2:17 PM on March 6, 2018

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