What is the difference between self-care and self-soothing?

We’ve all heard the phrase self-care. It seems to be the buzzword of 2019 and appears on the tip of every blogger’s tongue. Honestly, it’s no wonder it’s become so popular as it encourages us to start taking better care of our mental, emotional and physical health.

Do you know the difference between self-care and self-soothing?

We’ve all heard the phrase self-care. It seems to be the buzzword of 2019 and appears on the tip of every blogger’s tongue. Honestly, it’s no wonder it’s become so popular as it encourages us to start taking better care of our mental, emotional and physical health.

Self-care is a crucial part of keeping your cup at a safe, operational level. When we feel ourselves running low on energy, it allows us to step aside and begin to recharge. How you practice self-care is an individual preference and it can range from simply reading a book to going on vacation.

But what happens when we don’t allow ourselves to recharge?

If you recognise that your cup is beginning to dry up and you act on it, good for you. You’ve successfully avoided burnout. But if you notice the signs and continue moving forward at full speed, something has to give eventually.

“Self-care is there to help the pain dissolve when it’s still small; Self-soothing is used to mop up the leftovers after you’ve blown up.”

Self-soothing appears when you spend all your free hours napping, or treat yourself to a bottle of wine every night on the couch. If drinking a bottle a night or taking expensive shopping trips become the only ways for you to feel some sort of joy in life, then your ‘self-care’ is moving into a danger zone. You’re officially walking the fine line between treating a paper cut (the mild pain) and treating a gunshot (the blow-up).

Image from Sarah Brown

But I thought it was all the same thing?

In the months leading up to my breakdown, I was on autopilot. I had never heard of the phrase self-care, nor had I ever heard of self-soothing. There was no such thing as me sitting down to read a book, or ‘winding down‘ by playing video games (despite this being one of my favourite past times).

For months I would come home from work anxious and on edge, weigh myself, and go straight to bed. There were only three things I would remove myself from my duvet cocoon for; A smoke, a cup of coffee or to use the bathroom. That was it. Although napping is good, this was too much and left no room for the habits and hobbies needed in order to properly refill my cup.

By December 2018 my cup was well and truly dry.

I was partaking in self-soothing or comfort behaviors. When I came home feeling a little worse for wear, my go-to was the scales. Since I wasn’t eating much my weight was guaranteed to drop by a few grams. Looking at the lower number gave me comfort. There was no recharging or refilling, therefore this was a purely self-soothing behaviour. It didn’t serve me in the slightest other than giving me temporary peace of mind.

Likewise for the excessive napping. I was seeking escape, so I slept it off. My batteries never recharged because I was mentally and emotionally exhausted, so sleeping only served as an avoidance technique.

Although I was sleeping after work, I rarely slept through the night and spent a lot of time staring at the ceiling wishing it would all just go away. My mind was perpetually turning like a turbine to the point where I would wake from nightmares, panic attacks, and general uneasiness nightly.

Although these behaviors aren’t always necessarily bad, they aren’t doing anything to help you recharge your emotional and mental energies.

If you’re physically exhausted then a nap can be very refreshing, but if you’re mentally or emotionally exhausted a nap only serves as an escape from reality.

Comfort VS Care.

When you come home from a bad day at work, or you’ve had a fight with your partner, you’ll naturally crave comfort. This is usually in the form of warmth or pleasure such as;

  • Shopping
  • Sex
  • Alcohol
  • Food
  • A hot bath
  • Napping

As I mentioned, there’s nothing wrong with these things, however, it’s the power behind them and what you’re trying to do for yourself that holds the power. Some of these can be overindulged and act as an escape from reality.

When you seek care you’re in need of self-respect, self-connection, and realignment.

These are just some of the things you can practice as self-care, and act as a way to realign yourself when most needed.

Image from Roberto Nickson

Self-care and self-soothing fall very closely together, and both are necessary but in different ways. Often they become entangled and confused, as do some of their key elements.

The key things to take away from this post are;

  • #1 When caring for yourself becomes about distraction and avoidance, then it’s time to rethink your ‘self-care’ plan.
  • #2 If you’re reaching for another glass of gin every night of the week under the illusion of ‘self-care’, ask yourself; What am I really seeking?
  • #3 There is a distinct difference between craving care and craving comfort. Listen to yourself, know what you need to recharge, and stay true to it.

Have you any further thoughts on this? Were you aware that there was a difference between self-care and self-soothing? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!


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  2. I never thought of the two as separate things. But upon reading this article, it makes perfect sense. When thinking about the differences between the two for me, I found my mindset to have a lot to do with whether I was self-caring or self-soothing.

  3. Really enjoyed this post. Never thought about the difference before but it makes sense to me now. I’ve definitely had to do both in the past. Now mostly self care, but good to realize the signs of self soothing too.

  4. Thank you so much for stopping by and reading. I throw myself into work masked as self-care, but obviously, it’s really now. It’s hard to find that balance at the start, but time makes it easier 🙂

  5. Very interesting topic. I’ve been working on self care recently (which includes a weekly indulgent bubble bath) and can see where I’ve gone wrong in the past. I definitely used napping and shopping as ways to make myself feel better short term. Now my routine includes more varied activities.

  6. That’s how I understand it too. If you depend too much on something you’re self-soothing and actually adding to the problem, rather than decompressing from it. Thank you so much for stopping by, reading and commenting 🙂

  7. I think something that can be self-care can be a way to self-soothe. If I’m taking a hot bath once a week but I don’t rely on it to sustain me, then it’s self-care. But if the first thing I do every night is jump into a hot bath with a bottle of wine (I don’t drink LOL but just an example) and I couldn’t survive without those things, then it’s def. self-soothing/numbing. Interested to hear your take.

  8. Thank you so much. I think it’s a bit of trial and error as to what helps us. A lot of the time we’re not taught the difference between the two terms, and we can take ‘coming home after a long week’ as a sign that we need a treat. So we head for the bottle. It’s certainly not the answer and never will be. Thank you for popping by and reading 😀

  9. I had never heard of self care or self soothing before I had my breakdown. I very quickly learnt that alcohol is absolutely not the answer to depression. It might temporarily relieve but the following day I was in an even more of a foul mood and I know it was because of the alcohol. I have also gained over 2 stone in weight because my self soothing was chocolate and ice cream. Now I know about self care and self soothing I know when and how to use it. Brilliant blog post.

  10. It’s so true though. I was just the same – self-soothing constantly. Throwing a plaster over the wound in hopes it’ll close over, but it just got worse and worse. I’m glad you’ve learned the importance of self-care, and you’re now taking time to practice it every day.

  11. This is so beautifully written. I think we (as a society) many times mix up self soothing and self care and there is quite a difference. I used to be a habitual self soother but I’m learning that with proper self care I don’t have to wait until I’m burnt out to try and get myself back to a good place. It all takes practice, lessons in our boundaries and limits and a little bit of resistance but in the long run, this is where we should be. #selfcarefirst #selfcarematters (I live by reminding myself of those hashtags now)

  12. Another great post! Really useful way to put it- that bit of the experiential spectrum when the self-care had become something else. Yes, soothing really seems to capture it- when you’re trting to soothe that pain away.
    It’s perhaps not always the case, but the soothing behaviours seem to be heavier hitters then the self care ones- which are more subtle.
    Many thanks,
    Spence ????

  13. Thank you so much for popping by and commenting 🙂 I tend to do that in the winter as well because it’s just so depressing.

  14. I didn’t know about self-soothing so thank you for explaining it! That makes so much sense – I’ve used sleeping as an avoidance technique before and that’s when I know I need to rethink what I’m doing. It’s something I found myself doing a lot with SAD so I’m really going to focus on that this year. Thanks for sharing!

  15. That’s an excellent way of doing things. Using the temp measure of self-soothing to raise yourself high enough to practice self-care! What a wonderful way of putting it. Thank you for stopping by x

  16. I’m the same. I’m up at 6am this morning just to get work finished that I didn’t get done last night because I was busy self-caring. But I can’t let it go until later because it needs done now and I’ll panic if it’s not done etc. My mind goes into Typa A over drive constantly!

  17. I hadn’t realized how different they were either until I happened to start thinking about it! It’s crazy but makes sense at the end of the day. I’m so glad you enjoyed this. Thank you for stopping by and showing your support. x

  18. Remembering to take times for ourselves is important because our happiness matters too! As a SAHM, I care for others 24/7 that sometimes I forget about myself. You provide great self-care tips and reminded me to take a few moments a day to destress and unwind. Thank you!

  19. This is so bloody interesting! I had no idea there was a difference between the two but when you really think about it, it becomes a little more obvious. I think “self care” has been adopted as somewhat of an umbrella term that people use to describe any old behaviour now from shopping sprees to takeaways. Thank you so much for writing this post! xx
    El // Welsh Wanderer

  20. I never really stopped to think about the difference. I am a bit of a workaholic and I’m type A.. so I love being busy. But i constantly have to remind myself to take breaks. It is really important to make time for yourself.

  21. Fantastic post. I agree with you, self soothing doesn’t help us in the long run and should not be a turn to for everything. However there are times when I need a little more than what just my self care can give. I have some self soothing things I do that help to pick me up when I really down. I do something for self soothing to lift my spirits enough to then turn to my self care techniques.

  22. Wow, what a great post. I’ve never heard of self-soothing before so I’m glad I read this. I appreciate your honesty as well! Good info and well-written.

  23. This is great. I’d never heard the term self-soothing, but know exactly what you’re talking about. Self-soothing in my previous experience has led swiftly to incredibly self-destructive behaviours. Knowing the difference between what you think you want and what you actually need is vital.

  24. I’d honestly never considered this before. Self care is such a buzz word as you said but self soothing seems like a new concept but it makes complete sense.

    A great post, well thought out and as ever very honest and thought provoking.

  25. I’m so glad that you’ve shared all of this <3 it's important to know and like you said, unexpected!

  26. Well I learn something new everyday! Never heard of self soothing before. This is definitely a in an informative post!

  27. I love how you have pointed out too much of something can turn self-care activities into something dangerous. I think you have given really good ideas on how to use self-care properly and what to watch out for in your own behavior. Love this post- well done!

  28. I know many people who consider a wee glass at the end of the night to be self-care. To me, that’s the beginning of dependence.

  29. Emotional eating can so easily end up as a self-soothing technique. We can tell ourselves we can eat takeout, popcorn, crisps etc all at once because we’ve had a bad day, but really it can easily spiral and become a full blown disorder.

    Thank you for stopping by and reading 🙂

  30. Self-soothing is napping too much for me, or smoking more than I need to. Self-care is usually bubble baths, exfoliating, yoga and drinking plenty of water. All of that seems so simple but I struggle with doing anything but napping and writing lately, so it’s alot for me! Thank you for reading 😀

  31. Exactly! You’ve hit the nail on the head with this comment! Thank you so much for reading and I’m so glad you enjoyed it 😀

  32. I always found that weird too. We’ve discussed it in group, and have come to realise that parents need to teach the child rather than just leaving them, otherwise that child could go on to develop unhealthy habits. It’s not what I expeceted when I first starting looking into the term, I just wanted to see was there meant to be a difference. Needless to say I had my eyes opened.

  33. I’m in the same boat pet, but I also think it’s so easy to get caught up in that cycle of self-soothing. I’m glad you enjoyed reading this and found it informative.

  34. I can see where you’re coming from. It’s fine to self-soothe, but I think you can have too much of it at times. I know personally I thought napping was self-care, and it is, but not when it’s all you do in your spare time. It can be so depressing to come home from work every day and just sleep your evening away. It leaves you waiting for the weekend or a vacation that might never come. That being said I do see where you are coming from, and thank you for offering your opinion 🙂

  35. Thank you for reading! I’m so happy you found this to be insightful and informative. I was scared people would read it and call BS!

  36. I’ve began to think about it much like charging a phone. The phone is running out, you just let it ‘rest’ on the table. You don’t plug it in or attempt to recharge it in any way. You just leave it and hope it’ll be better in the morning. And you do this again, and again and again until it completely dies. Then what? You stick the charger in now after it’s already dead? Seems a little to late. You know what I’m saying?

  37. I’m certainly guilty of the self-soothing route, thinking it was self-care. The lines are so close together it’s only natural that they can be crossed. Thank you for reading and I am so glad you found it useful.

  38. At the beginning of the year I would have considered both to be the same thing, but when I read more into it and thought about it, I realised they are very close, but also very different. Thank you for stopping by and reading, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  39. Yet it’s so easy for the two to get mixed up together. It’s a surprising concept but it’s one I really want to get across.

  40. Wow. I wish I had known the differences before my breakdowns. I’m glad I know now though. This will seriously help me. I have a habit of calling my self-soothing self-care. Now that I know the difference I’ll be able to better care for myself!
    Thank you so much!

  41. This was really interesting to me especially since I’d assumed that self-soothing would be the same as babies self-soothing – calming themselves down, falling asleep by themselves, etc. I’ve definitely gone down the self-soothing route in the past so it’s really useful to recognise that it’s different to self-care. I’ll be keeping this in mind from now on.

    Thanks for sharing!

    Hayley |

  42. Such a great post and such a great way to distinguish the comforting vs the productive habits we turn to. This is such a refreshing way to look at self care and I am so glad I now know what self soothing is!

  43. I honestly never really considered the difference. Thanks for sharing this perspective!

  44. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head in differentiating the two terms and warning against falling into patterns that give you permission to shut down rather than to recharge so that you can stay productive. It’s important to recognize when a self-care activity isn’t helpful. Like you said, napping everyday isn’t helping if you’re not sleeping at night. Constant binge watching or reading is no good if you’re not getting any exercise or human interaction. Doing anything in excess will come back to haunt you eventually. Balance is always the key, and even though it’s a hard goal to achieve, it’s important to try.

  45. I love this post! It’s something that I haven’t thought a lot about. I think it’s easy to fall into self-soothing after a bad day or disappointment, but practicing self-care throughout the day may help prevent us from falling down this slippery slope. Definitely something to keep in mind. Thank you for this insightful post!

  46. I don’t think that self-soothing is necessary a negative thing. It’s kind of important to know how to self-soothe. But thank you for offering your perspective on the matter!
    Laura / https://www.laustworld.com

  47. I never thought about there being a difference between self care and self soothing, but I can totally see where self care can become a method of hiding and not coping with stress. This will help me to be more mindful not to fall into that mindset!

  48. I never knew this about self-soothing. I would have had no idea what the difference was. I think I’ve been leaning towards more self-soothing activities lately and this has really opened my eyes x

  49. I love this post and it is great information we all need to hear. Thanks for sharing ❤️

  50. Interesting! This wasn’t the differentiation that I was expecting to see. I know that shortly before my breakdown I had nothing let after work, clearing my Grandad’s house at weekends with Mum, and in the school holidays I was getting through a bottle of vodka a day because I didn’t know what to do outside of my routine of work, sleep, work, sleep. In hindsight there were a lot of warning signs that I was heading for a huge crash but at the time I was too exhausted and burnt out to see it.

    I still find it strange that people say to leave babies to cry so that they learn to self soothe when we wouldn’t expect a baby to practice self-care but rather we teach them – both the basic/essential self care of feeding, sleeping, bathing; and the self care for the soul with baby sensory and baby yoga and all these other classes that are now around.

  51. It seems that every time I read one of your blog posts I learn something new. I had no idea self-soothing was a thing but it makes sense.

  52. I love, love, love this! So many times we are just told to do these basic things to avoid our real problems (and interestingly enough, most of what is being marketed as “self-care” is actually just a way for some company to make money!).
    I’m often tempted to just watch tv shows even when I know that yoga would be better for me. And self-care is about doing what’s better for us not necessarily what we want most.

  53. I so like this post. Makes you take a look at your behavior and what drives you to do certain things.

  54. This is so interesting. I have never thought of self care this way before and I’d never thought of the difference between the two. You have written such a brilliant post ????

  55. This post surprised me. I never knew there was a difference and I’m glad that I do now. 🙂
    To self-soothe, I love me a good bubble bath or duvet day but in terms of self care, I’m a sucker for long walks in nature or writing. 🙂

  56. I had never really thought of it like that before! After reading this I have definitely come away rethinking my own self care. Thanks for sharing this!

  57. wow, this is such an insightful post. i’ve never thought of self care this way before. i can definitely see the positive to both self care and self soothing but i think i take part in more self soothing than i had realized. this will have me rethinking my self care plan. thanks for sharing your wisdom. xx

    mich / simplymich.com

  58. Wow! I never really thought about it like this before. Indeed there is a thin line separating self-care from self-soothing but self-soothing can eventually lead to a much darker path. I think we all are guilty of self-soothing occasionally but yeah, it’s important to self-introspect and think about whether what we’re regularly doing in the name of self-care still falls under “care” or if it’s turning into soothing. A thought provoking post! Thank you so much for sharing this piece!

  59. Good conversation about the difference. I had never heard of self-soothing before. I just called what I did emotional eating because that was always my go to.

  60. I think you’re right, especially with reaching for ‘just another glass’. It’s something that’s perpetuated in society and so it’s likely to be replicated at home. I agree that it’s really important to stop and ask if it’s really helping, as I don’t think that alcohol should ever be classed as a form of self care. It should be an indulgence, not a coping mechanism.

  61. Very timely for me to read this! THis post gave me some great ideas to take osme me time. Thank you.

  62. I really enjoyed this post. I didn’t know there was a difference between self-care and self-soothing. I have been feeling low myself, and I know I need to recharge.

  63. What a great post. I used to be totally guilty of self-soothing. I think I’ve gotten a lot better now. I’m rather going for a walk on the beach now than a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. Alcohol never had a self care effect on me and I never understood how putting poison in your body could be considered self care.

  64. Once you start reading into it you realise how much of what we do to ‘help’ ourselves is actually doing the opposite. Thank you for reading 😀

  65. Upon researching this I realised that a lot of mine are too. They weren’t always that way but in recent days sleeping has been difficult so I’ve been very tired, meaning I ‘dose’ on the sofa a lot. I’m trying to get out of the pattern and move towards more creative outlets.

  66. Thank you so much for sharing! I recently experienced this as well. I have been under and insane amount of stress but I’ve been so calm on the outside that I didn’t realize it at all. That was, until I found trying to eat anything at all making me physically ill. Self care is so incredibly important!

  67. Very insightful read. I never thought of the two like this before. Thank you!

  68. This really was some food for thought. I hadn’t considered that the two were different but right off of reading this I’ve realised that almost all of my current “self care” methods are actually self soothing ones – namely reaching for the gin, shopping online or napping. Like you say there’s nothing particularly wrong with that at times but it’s definitely given me a wake up call in that I need to take a step back and start on some proper self care again. Thank you for sharing ???? x

  69. Nice post. I didn’t realise either there was much difference. I’ve definitely so many times just gone straight to bed. Bed is always the choice and sleep.

  70. I never really thought about the difference here, but you’re absolutely right! I’m guilty of self soothing rather than self care, unfortunately. I’ll try to be more conscious of that now.

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