When does self-care become self-soothing? The phrase “self-care” seems to have morphed into a catch phrase and punch line these days. Is a glass (or bottle) of wine after a tough day really self-care? Are you really taking good care of your colleagues by bringing a couple dozen donuts to the office? How is pending a holiday with your family knowing you have to spend 2 weeks holed up to recover from it self-care?

Distinction between self-soothing and self-care

Part of making the distinction between self-soothing and self-care is that self-care allows you space to be uncomfortable. I will even go so far as to suggest it forces you into choosing to sit in pain and discomfort. Let me give you an example.

Last week I got laid off. I knew it was coming and had been job searching. I had three rounds of interviews with two different companies. Although I was sad my job was ending, I was also confident that I would get one of the two I was interviewing for. I was so bold to start a mental pro and con list of which I would choose when I was offered both. 

You see what’s coming, right? 

Friday afternoon I got turned down for both jobs. I have never not gotten a job I have interviewed for – not in 46 years. Until Friday… when I lost both. Within an hour.

My first instinct was to jump on all of the job boards and apply for everything in a panic. My second instinct was to eat a whole box of Thin Mint cookies. Both of these fall squarely into the category of self-soothing. Taking action and covering my fear with sugar are often my go to strategies when I am fearful. 

Luckily, I have learned that my first instinct in these situations is often wrong. Instead I opted for self-care, to sit in my discomfort for a bit. I hopped on a call with a circle of women I trust to talk it through and listen to their wisdom. Full disclosure – I did eat 6 cookies while on that call. I am not perfect. 


This morning as I sit here trying to figure out what to write on the blog, I am looking through some drafts of posts I started and never finished. And of course, there is one that talks about feeling fear and another about self-care vs. self-soothing. The universe is not subtle. The messages are there if we get quiet. I truly believe these messages are the reward for getting quiet and not numbing out. If I would have jumped into action or cookies, I would have missed the message. This is what Julia Cameron calls “synchronicity” in her book, “The Artist’s Way.”

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text

The “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text” podcast discussed Book 1, Chapter 9: The Midnight Duel from the theme of betrayal. Part of what they talked about was feeling that betrayal. Encouragement to feel the fear, the loneliness, the vulnerability. 

Harry Potter and the Sacred Text

This is not an intuitive thing for most of us in today’s world. Even the first time I typed that sentence I accidentally typed “fear the fear, the loneliness….” We want to not feel negative feelings. People tell us to snap out of it or cheer up!

But what if? 

  • What if I sat with the fear that I had about being unemployed?
  • What if I just let myself feel lonely and rejected?
  • What if I cried and howled at how scared I am? How helpless I feel with a college tuition bill pending?

This is synchronicity. How could something recorded in 2016 know exactly what I needed to hear in 2020? Because I was ready to hear it. Synchronicity is everywhere when we slow down to allow ourselves to hear it and see it. If we continually soothe ourselves into not feeling our feelings, we muffle the messages the universe is trying to send our way.  Let’s take care of the feelings instead of just smoothing over them. 

Sorta Awesome Podcast

One of my favorite podcasts has touched on this self-care vs. self soothing a few times. The original Sorta Awesome episode that planted this seed in my awareness is actually a few years old. I recommend starting here.

As a follow up, Sorta Awesome did a holiday-specific episode in 2019 that discussed seven types of self-care around the holidays. One of the resources they reference is a book about rest. Only in America do we need to be taught how to rest. Sacred Rest is a book that we can all learn from and will definitely be one that I will return to, probably receiving different messages during various seasons in my life.

7 kids of self care

You can listen to this episode anywhere you get podcasts or directly from the Sorta Awesome website by clicking on the graphic above.

What about you, Dear Reader? How does self-soothing and self-care show up in your life?