Picture a first aid kit. It’s easy to imagine, right? It’s a little box with bandages, disinfectant, pain medication, etc. These kits typically can’t fix big injuries, but they can save the day when they’re all we have.
We’ve got all these quick, at-home fixes for bumps and bruises on our bodies. Wouldn’t it make sense to have a similar kit for emotional bumps and bruises? That’s exactly what a Mental Health Emergency Kit is for, and it’s the simplest way to turn your day around, or stop a bad day in its tracks.
What’s a Mental Health Emergency Kit?
Simply put, a mental health emergency kit is a first aid kit for your emotions and moods. It’s likely that you already have some tools in your kit, whether you’ve labeled them that way or not. Think about the last time you coped with a tough day. Did you turn on some music? Watch a favorite TV show? Call a friend? These are all tools in your kit.
The idea is that when you notice a bad mood coming on, or when a stressor threatens to derail your day, you can turn to the tools in your kit to help. Like a first aid kit, our mental health kits might not completely fix the problem — but they do their best to help us regain that sense of control.
What goes into a Mental Health Emergency Kit?
Your kit is unique to you, but there are a few standard guidelines that help in creating it. Add a note or picture of each item in your kit on your Hope Board so you can reference it when you need to. Choose at least one item for each of the following categories:
Think of this item as a disinfectant. When we’re feeling down or stressed, it’s tempting to go straight for a distraction, but try to use a healing mechanism first. If we scrape a knee and bandage it before washing it, it could become infected, and it may take longer to heal. Both bandages and disinfectants are included in a first aid kit, but there’s an order we’re meant to use them. Think of your mental health the same way. When we jump right into comfort activities, we’re missing that chance to do a little healing before the recovery part.
Something calming could include:
- 10 minutes of journaling (try the Journaling Tool if you want to keep your venting totally private)
- Meditation for centering. We love the Self-compassion meditation for this.
- Try a Progressive Muscle Relaxation exercise (or in simple terms, lying down while clenching and releasing each muscle one by one until your whole body is relaxed)
These are just a few of many calming techniques. Choose one that works for you.
Something warm and cozy.
This one is pretty subjective, but it should feel like a hug or a deep sigh of relief. For some people, this is a warm cup of tea, for others it’s snuggling with a pet, for others it’s a favorite playlist (here’s ours!)
You get the idea. Think of your creature comforts and put them on the list. And if you’re thinking, “I can remember to make a cup of tea when I’m stressed, thanks,” add it anyway. Even if it’s easy, the simple act of referencing your kit and going through the motions can provide a sense of control and grounding.
Your happy place.
This tactic is often used in EMDR therapy. In EMDR, this term may be called “safe place” or “calm place.” It’s a type of mental safe haven where you can go in your imagination to recover from stress.
For your happy place, it’s important to create a rich environment. Here’s an example: My personal happy place is in the hammock on a warm day with my cat lying on my chest, purring. When I’m really stressed, I think of this place not just visually, but physically too. I hear the purrs as well as the birds in the trees. I can feel the warm sun on my face with a gentle breeze. I can see my cat’s belly softly rising and falling with his breath. The hammock swings ever so gently. I don’t have a care in the world.
If you have a literal picture of your happy place, or of somewhere that reminds you of it, add it to your Hope Board to reference later. A visual can sometimes help bring you to your place more quickly.
Someone you trust.
Sometimes we just need to talk to another human. Talking can help to bring us back to earth and remind us of what’s real versus what we might be creating in a cloud of stress. You can add as many people as you want to your kit. I have a person I call when I’m Big Sad, a couple different people I text when I really need a laugh, and then yet another person to call if I’m worried about having a panic attack.
Your person could also be a Coach, your therapist, or even a hotline. (Here’s the number for the Suicide Prevention Helpline: 1-800-273-8255.)
Anything else I should know?
For some of us, medication will also be a part of our mental health emergency kits, so don’t forget to put that on the list! But the most important thing about your kit is to use it. Put 10 minutes or so on your calendar (if that helps!) to put together your list. Save it where you’ll remember it. You can add items to your Hope Board, create a Note in your phone, or even write it down on a piece of paper you can keep with you.
Then, the next time you’re feeling stressed or sad or worried, open up your kit and use your tools. Our emotions deserve to be cared for in the same way we care for our bodies, so we can feel better, faster, in every way.
By Kelton Wright Vice President Content, Strategy and Production at Sanvello
Kelton is an author, editor, and athlete passionate about helping people live happier lives. She’s taught mindfulness to NFL coaches, led hundreds of women through cycling clinics, written an Amazon best seller on dating, and worked with brands like Runner’s World, Rapha, Headspace, Teen Vogue, Bicycling Magazine, Thrive Market, Skratch Labs, Peloton Magazine, and more all with the mission of empowering others. She is currently the VP of Content, Strategy, and Production at Sanvello. Follow her on Instagram: @keltonwrites