Self care is really important for everybody, but especially for those of us who deal with mental health conditions. We have to be mindful of things that trigger crisis situations, attacks, or meltdowns, but it isn’t always easy (and it’s often impossible to do – not all mental health issues have noticeable triggers at all and so many are constant, chronically present, and we have to do our best just to function at all). Because of the frustrating ways my symptoms interact with each other, I find myself forever in need of down time to take care of myself and one of the things I find helpful is to have a “self care kit”.
What’s a self care kit? It’s a collection of things (physical or otherwise) intended to make you feel better. What that means specifically will differ between everyone because of varying interests, symptoms, brain chemistry, feelings, etc., so the things that I have in my kit may be totally useless to you. And that’s okay! It’s important to remember that everyone’s mental illness treats them differently, so the way their mental illness is treated should be different, too.
My own self care kit is a combination of tangible items, lists, ideas, and other things that either help to cheer me up or help validate my feelings. Both of these are really useful in different situations. When I’m depressed, I usually lose interest in everything so trying to cheer myself up isn’t going to work, but letting out my emotions or listening to other people let out theirs can be really cathartic.
Here are a few things that I keep in my self care kit:
- Ativan. Panic and anxiety are my biggest concerns when it comes to functioning like a so-called “normal” person, so I always have at least one Ativan on hand wherever I go. I’ve gotten really good at noticing when a panic attack is coming on so I can often prevent them or reduce their severity. I can honestly say that Ativan has saved my life more than once.
- A list of crisis hotlines. I have these both written down and saved in my phone in case of an emergency. These hotlines are fantastic if you need someone to talk to but feel too embarrassed or disconnected to reach out to someone you know.
- Coping cards. I have a collection of index cards with positive affirmations written on them, and when I’m struggling with anxiety or depression, I can pull them out and repeat the statements like mantras. I used to think coping statements were pointless and I rolled my eyes at them, but I tried them once out of desperation and they actually helped! I also have a few that have cute drawings or pictures of my cats on them.
- Noise-reducing headphones. These are AMAZING and I have to thank my brother for introducing me to them – he’s autistic and has Tourette’s so he deals with a lot of auditory processing issues and gave them to me while I was having a panic attack once and it changed my life. They’re wonderful for times when my ability to concentrate has disappeared or when I’m having trouble processing things (sounds, information, thoughts).
- Candies or pieces of dark chocolate. I’m the kind of person who just straight up forgets to eat and that can cause a lot of problems. It’s always a good idea to have something on hand to boost your blood sugar if you’re anything like me. When I realize I haven’t eaten in a long time, I suddenly feel like I’m starving, get dizzy, and feel too sick to go make something. If I quickly eat a candy or chocolate, it’s usually enough to get by until I can make something more substantial for myself.
- Lists! Concentration and memory can be huge problems for me when I’m stressed or sad, so I keep lists of things I like, things that calm me down, things that are cathartic, etc., so that I don’t have to try to think at all when I need one or more of those things. For example, if I’m depressed, I tend to lose interest in absolutely everything and my motivation to help myself plummets. If I have an easily accessible list of things that relax me or help me validate my feelings (movies, songs, activities like writing, etc.), I’m much better off than I would have been if I’d tried to come up with it on the spot, in the midst of a crisis or spiral of catastrophic thinking.
- A Beanie Baby. Not just any Beanie Baby, but my late cat Ozzy’s favourite toy ever – Amber the ginger tabby cat. He stole it from my younger brother and never gave it back so it quickly became “Ozzy’s kitty”. He used to carry it everywhere with him and it makes me feel so much better when I give it a little hug, like I”m giving him a hug again too.
Once again, self care is incredibly important. A really common symptom of so many conditions is neglecting or not caring for ourselves, so we need to be extra attentive to how we’re feeling to make sure that we don’t withdraw from everything during a crisis (or regular day). If it doesn’t help you to hug a cat or repeat positive messages, don’t do those things. If medication is useless to you, that’s fine. Remember, there isn’t a single right way to deal with your mental illness – as long as you’re being safe and not hurting yourself or others, it’s okay. Our brains and our feelings and our experiences are all unique so it’s important to remember that our treatment methods should be unique, too. Maybe a self care kit isn’t right for you; it’s just one possible tool out of so, so many that you can consider to help manage your mental illness.
What are some things you would (or do!) keep in a self care kit? Do you think this is a helpful idea for yourself?