Self-soothing behaviors

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Current Scientific Literature

You often find someone tapping their foot, tapping their pen, or doing other such small repetitive motions. We associate the behavior with tension. It is, however, hard to find research on self-soothing, repetitive motions in healthy adults. When these behaviors are explored in research, they tend to be tested for their treatment effects on certain conditions. There is research on self-soothing motions for infants, research on self-soothing motions for those on the autism spectrum, and, thankfully, research on self-soothing motions for veterans in treatment for alcoholism. In a study in which veterans were timed using rocking chairs, those that reported greater cravings rocked for significantly longer than those that reported lower cravings at that time. However, greater time rocking also correlated with a lower purposefulness score, indicating a reduced intent or plan to drink.[1] Self-soothing is a common, healthy behavior that can help people cope.


Often you will notice yourself or someone else tapping a finger, tapping their foot, repeatedly moving or rocking in some manner. These and other self-soothing behaviors are usually to alleviate the tension caused by ignoring a need. The tension feeling that is causing the self-soothing behavior will stop the moment the causative need starts being attended to and taken care of. People tend to attribute this behavior to nervousness, since nervousness often comes with self-soothing behaviors like this. However, nervousness is not directly causing the tension that results in self-soothing behavior. Bodily needs appear to cause the tension, resulting in the self-soothing behavior. Bodily needs themselves can be instigated by the nervousness, or merely brought to a boiling point by the nervousness. Frequently when you are nervous you are attempting to focus your attention while your body continues to attempt to take your attention for self-care tasks.

Personal Experiences


  1. Cross RL, White J, Engelsher J, O’Connor SS. Implementation of Rocking Chair Therapy for Veterans in Residential Substance Use Disorder Treatment. Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association. May 2018;3:190-198.