Regardless of whether we are dealing with the ups and downs of daily life, or with mental health issues such as anxiety, emotional self-care is something not to be neglected.
It is all too easy to slip into a downward spiral caused by any number of physiological and psychological factors, or a combination thereof—a bout of depression, dehydration, poor food choices, lack of sleep, being overworked, lack of exercise and time spent outdoors, a barrage of negative personal interactions, any kind of loss…
Once the downward spiral is set into motion, we may find it difficult to even remember how to cheer ourselves up. For this reason, it is a good idea to keep an Emotional First Aid Kit on hand.
There are no hard-and-fast rules as to what an Emotional First Aid Kit should contain. Keep in mind, however, that its contents should not encourage substance abuse, eating disorders, or other destructive behavior).
Every individual has different preferences: While one person may like to be surrounded by other people who make them feel better (and therefore includes a list of friends’ contact information), another may need alone time in order to recharge (and therefore includes a list of out-of-the-way places to visit).
One person may prefer a beautiful basket filled with tangible objects, while another may prefer a digital folder in the Cloud, filled with photographs, e-books, and video files.
Whichever you choose, a few general guidelines and suggestions can help you get started on your own Emotional First Aid Kit.
Select a suitable container for your kit. Ideally, its appearance should already make you smile—such as a shoe box covered in beautifully patterned gift wrap, a lovely woven basket, or a fabric tote in a cheerful color.
Keep your kit somewhere private, but still easily accessible—for instance, in your bedside table, or high up on a shelf.
Use a beautiful little notebook as your first aid manual. On the first few pages, make a list of questions to ask yourself: Did you drink enough water? Did you eat healthy food? Did you take your supplements? Did you sleep enough? Did you go for a walk in the fresh air? If you end up saying “no” to these questions, you know where to start to make yourself feel better.
Write down a list of your favorite (healthy) drinks and foods that you can cook for yourself, order in, or buy from the grocery store. If you eat nutritious food, you will start to feel better physically, which will also likely lift your mood. Come up with a list of a few family members and friends who always manage to cheer you up. Create a list of your favorite places to visit, whether that is a café or a serene corner in a park, a beach or a hiking path.
Include old greeting cards with thoughtful wishes and/or a few pictures of events or activities that you look back on fondly. Because it is easy to fall into negative self-talk, these would serve as a welcome reminder of times when you felt really positive about yourself. This could be anything from a family get-together group photo to a selfie with your pet.
Scents such as lavender are known to have a calming, even sleep-inducing effect. Add a candle, a vial of essential oil, or a sachet with your favorite scent to your kit. If you like to take baths, add a small bottle with your preferred bubble bath, a bath bomb, or similar.
Add a CD with your favorite upbeat music or create an appropriately titled playlist with songs that are guaranteed to lift your mood.
If you like to drink herbal tea, keep a small stash of your favorite tea bags or tea leaves, as well as a special mug in your kit. (Caffeine can reduce serotonin levels and cause sleep problems, so better to avoid caffeinated tea and coffee when your mood is already low. The sugar in candy or chocolate can also have negative effects, so think twice before indulging.)
Include a silk scarf, a pair of cozy socks, or a particularly soft cotton T-shirt to wear. If you like to craft, a ball of soft, colorful yarn, a crocheting needle, and instructions for a small project will keep your fingers busy and calm your mind. If you like to draw and doodle, a sketchbook with paper pleasant to the touch and a set of pens or crayons will stimulate both your hands and brain in all the right ways.
If you love to read, add a book by your favorite humorist writer. If you prefer audio books, download a funny one. If you love to watch movies, add a DVD with your favorite comedy feature film or stand-up comedy special. Or, if you prefer to keep your pick-me-up videos digitally, create in your YouTube account a list of stand-up comedy clips, funny cat videos, and hilarious blooper reels.
(On a personal note, the latter saved my sanity during a nine-day hospital stay following major surgery. I was too scattered and exhausted to read a physical book or even follow an audio book, so short funny videos were the perfect way to keep me entertained and in good spirits.)
Include an inspirational novel, a poetry book, a meditation guide, or a non-fiction book that offers guidance for difficult situations (for some suggestions, see the sources below).
When using your emotional first aid kit, you should be able to focus on the positive and find some calm and inner peace. Even the process of assembling your kit can already help lift your mood.
- Ryan Stanley, Be Patient, Be Present, Be Joyful: A First-Aid Kit for the Emotional Bumps, Scrapes and Bruises of Life (Above the Noise, 2019).
- Guy Winch, Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts (Plume, 2014).
- Jennifer Louden, The Woman’s Comfort Book: A Self-Nurturing Guide for Restoring Balance in Your Life (Harper, 2005).
- Nicole Urdang, “Developing an Emotional First Aid Kit,” goodtherapy.org/blog/developing-an-emotional-first-aid-kit/