What’s in your mental health first aid kit?
I’m pretty sure you have a first aid kit for cuts and bruises but what about a mental health first aid kit? Where do you go when you’re feeling bruised and battered by life but with no external scars to show for it?
For years I’ve carried around a little ’emergency kit’ as I called it. It consisted of plasters, eye drops for when I wore contact lenses, safety pins, paracetamol, a mirror and a comb. And the occasional pair of tights. It’s proved pretty useful on many occasions.
Over time the contents of my little kit have changed and been added to. Out went the eye drops when I reverted back to glasses and in came a few new items. Lavender essential oil to dab on insect bites or inhale when I’m feeling tense. A tube of hand cream for when I want a moment to be still and focus on soothing my dry hands.
I realised that my kit is no longer only about pinning together wardrobe malfunctions, taming windswept hair or bandaging blistered heels. It’s also about soothing my mind and nerves when they feel sore and in pain. It’s more than just what I carry in my bag for emergencies.
So, I thought I’d share with you what I currently include in my mental health kit in case it inspires you to create one for yourself:
My iPhone – There are three key places on my phone that I turn to when I’m feeling frazzled. A folder of meditation apps, most often I use the Insight app as a timer. There’s also Buddhify and Headspace for when I feel the need for a guided meditation. (If you’re unsure about trying meditation have a read of 7 Common confusions about meditation.) I’ve made a photo album called Heart Swell which is filled with pics of my loved ones. A scroll through photos of my hubbie, my family, my friends and, of course, my beloved pup always lifts my heart. And thirdly, a mood-boosting playlist! The quickest way for me to feel more positive, more hopeful and more energetic is to listen (and ideally sing and dance along) to songs that are uplifting and joyous and make me feel good. With more than a handful of 80s pop tunes the playlist won’t win me any street cred but what matters is that the tunes boost my mood, every single time.
Soul-soothers list – this is a strategy from my mindful living e-course, Be Here Now. It’s a place for you to write all the ways that you can soothe your soul so that you can go straight to the list when you’re in need of it. Thinking of what to do to help yourself when you’re struggling can feel too difficult so having a ready-made list to pick from makes it easy. Mine includes talking to a friend, singing along to my Mood Boosters playlist, cuddling my dog and meditating on my breath. What would be on your soul-soothers list?
Essential oils – I’ve already mentioned lavender, what an amazing all round oil! I have a bottle at home and a bottle in my bag so I can sniff a calming whiff any time. I also have the Optimism blend from Neal’s Yard which I sometimes use in one of my diffusers at home and keep in my bag so that when I feel the need for a mood boost I can inhale the bottle’s aroma. It’s a blend of grapefruit, jasmine and black pepper and it really does help me to feel more positive.
Hand cream – I have a lot of hand cream. I find that one of the most effective ways I can get myself to stop and be still (that includes not checking my phone) for a few minutes is to take my hands out of action by slathering them in moisturiser. While the cream is soaking in I can’t do anything else and massaging my hands is a simple act of self-care. They feel good to be flexed and rubbed and my brain appreciates a moment of calm where I pay attention to my hands. I may also take the opportunity to focus on my breath, taking a few deep breaths all the way in to the bottom of my lungs and breathing all the way out to empty them. This takes just a couple of minutes and it’s like pressing my reset button.
Gratitude journal – this doesn’t live in my bag because I write in it every night before I go to sleep. Regular readers will know how much I rate a regular gratitude practice, there’s SO much evidence to show how powerful it is. Simply writing three things you’re thankful for each night (be specific and what you might think as little things count just as much as the big things) for three weeks is shown to boost your positivity and keep it up for several more weeks. It’s a fantastic habit to cultivate (take a look here for more info) and I take my journal with me if I’m away for the night so I don’t miss writing in it. Gratitude practice is an integral part of my mental health kit.
A notebook and pen – I carried around a notebook and pen long before smartphones were around, when the only place to write down your ideas, thoughts or messages was on a piece of paper with a pen. I find it reassuring to know I have somewhere I can empty my head into and write by hand.
A quote card – I know inspirational quotes can be corny but I find a motivating, comforting, thought-provoking or inspiring quote can be a marvellous thing to read and keep in mind when you need it. I change the quote depending on what I need and it can act as a mantra too.
The kit bag – the pouch I keep most of my kit in was sent to me by a lovely friend purely because she saw it and thought of me. Knowing that the home for my mental health kit is a gift from a kind and thoughtful friend just makes it all the more comforting.
So there you have it, the current contents of my mental health first aid kit, items get swapped in and out depending on how I’m feeling and what I need. If your kit consists only of one thing make it a list of actions you can take when you’re struggling so that you have a place to turn to for ideas of what to do to care for yourself.
I’d love to know if you create your own or, if you already have a kit, what are your essentials? What do you find most helpful when you’re feeling frazzled, anxious, stressed or overwhelmed? Leave a comment below, on my social media posts or email me, I’d love to hear from you.