We’ve all experienced having a bad day at work or school. It’s even worse when someone or something tips you over the edge just enough to want to have an emotional breakdown. Whether its the customer who is demanding to see your manager, the old bully you see in the grocery store, or the boss that keeps adding work to your already heavy load, emotional exhaustion and distress are real (and normal) reactions that can happen at any moment… even in the middle of your already busy day.
What do you do in those moments? Do you excuse yourself to go home early? Do you power through and just wait to get home?
Generally when you experience these intense emotions at home, you might have a favorite place to cuddle up into or you may have some favorite items that you know for sure will make you feel better. However, it can be hard to have that sense of security when you are out and about in your daily world. You may not have your favorite blanket right there or a cup of tea accessible, but with a self-soothe kit, you can feel prepared to handle a distressful moment in a way that fits your needs.
The self-soothe kit, anti-anxiety kit, calm down kit, happy box, self-care kit… whatever you call it, is an emergency kit of items that will help soothe you in stressful moments.
Think of it like a first-aid kit for your emotions. We have first-aid kits for physical damage, why can’t we have one for our emotions too?
The contents of the kit include items that help self-soothe with the five senses-- sight, touch, taste, sound, and smell. Using your senses in times of distress allows you to ground back to the real world.
The cool thing about these kits are that you create them yourself and customize it to fit your needs.
The idea is to have the kit be small enough so that you can store it in your backpack or desk. That way you’ll be able to access it quickly, calm down, and return to your work in a better mood.
It’s no secret that some of us are struggling to get through the day.
Here’s some statistics from the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI):
Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year.
Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—9.8 million, or 4.0%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities.
Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%.
6.9% of adults in the U.S.—16 million—had at least one major depressive episode in the past year.
18.1% of adults in the U.S. experienced an anxiety disorder such as posttraumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and specific phobias.
Obviously mental health is a common issue, so why aren’t we teaching how to soothe our emotions in distressing moments?
I discovered the magic of self-soothe kits while studying Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), which is a type of therapy developed by Marsha Linehan. This therapy focuses on teaching skills that help with emotional regulation and distress tolerance (if you want to know more about this type of therapy, consult your therapist).
For the purpose of this blog post, we will look more into the distress tolerance module of DBT. Distress tolerance skills are used when you cannot change the situation or emotions.
You might naturally use some of these skills when your boss tells you to put on a happy face or your professor surprises you with another paper!
Of these distress tolerance skills is the act of self-soothing. Self-soothing involves using the five senses to calm down.
You have to keep going, but obviously you’re distressed right?
That would be an ideal time to ask for a small break to run and grab your self-soothe kit. You might be the type of person that wants to be alone with your kit for ten minutes, or you might be able to grab some of the items to bring back to your shift (just to help keep the edge off).
While this may seem like another inconvenient thing to carry around, imagine how nice it would be to be comforted in a way that you like in a time of stress. If we all started to carry around a kit in our bags, we could normalize this behavior! (Maybe hint to your classmate that they should go grab their kit when they look a little stressed out).
Alright, so now that you’re on board with the idea, how do you make the perfect kit?
The first thing you’re going to do is think about how big you want this kit to be and where you’re going to be using it. Is this going to be the size of a backpack or the size of a pencil pouch. Maybe it’s even a box you’ll keep under your desk at work.
Whatever the size is, find a container that suits your needs and that you’ll be able to easily access.
Some of my favorites are old Ipsy makeup bags, decorative baskets, and pencil boxes. Whatever you decide to do, use what you have available. It doesn’t have to be fancy… you just need to have your items in one place.
The self-soothe kit is all about helping you ground in the moment through your five senses. Locate items or activities that you can do that can nurture your senses. To help get you brainstorming, I would strongly suggest writing down each of the five senses and writing five items/activities under each one.
Here are some examples and prompts to help you think:
Think of your happy place or something pleasant you can focus your attention on.
Pictures of friends and family, pictures of your favorite place or calming scenery, a book, sketchbook, coloring books, gaming device, journal, eye mask, affirmation cards, postcards, etc.
Think of some of your favorite smells. Which ones really bring you back to a joyful moment?
Incense, essential oil, candles, coffee beans, room spray, vanilla pods, etc.
Which tastes do you prefer? Which ones can really distract you and bring you joy? Sour, sweet, tangy, salty?
Favorite foods, candy, beverage, tea, sour candy, crunchy snacks, etc.
What kind of touch sensations do you like? What kinds of fabric material are you attracted to? What temperatures calm you down when you’re emotional?
Water beads, fuzzy socks, weighted blanket, slime, teddy bear, silk scarf, fuzzy blanket, rocks and crystals that are different temperatures, massage ball, head massager, beans, rice, fidget toys, putty, worry stones, etc.
Find something soothing to listen to that brings you joy.
Noise cancelling headphones, your favorite music, rain stick, singing bowl, podcasts, etc.
Here is a video from Popsugar explaining their version of a self-soothe kit!
After learning about self-soothe kits, I realized something... I’ve always had a self-soothe kit! I never go anywhere without my backpack, which always contains my art supplies, studying material, tea, headphones, and snacks. Now that I’ve identified my kit, I can start adding more items that appeal to the rest of my senses.
Part of the process is becoming aware of the things that bring you joy and translating them into environments where you’re expected to maintain a good attitude. Bringing your self-soothe kit into the daily world will allow you to soothe your senses quickly in a way that comforts you so that you can get back to the demands of your life.
I’ve seen the power of self-soothe kits with both adults and children! I have especially seen how well this works with teens (we all know how hard it can be to handle emotions at that age).
It’s incredible how quickly we can calm down when we have the tools that we know is comforting to us and readily available to use.
Good luck creating your kits and share it in the comments!
- March 2019
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