Have you ever cut your finger chopping vegetables, or had a toddler fall and skin a knee, only to discover that all of the bandaids have somehow gone missing?
Have you ever been in such a hurry that you’ve grabbed a hot pan with your bare hands, or sloshed a pot of boiling water over your fingers, only to wonder if you’re supposed to apply ointment or a bandage – neither of which you actually have on hand?
Have you ever tried to stop bleeding, comfort a wailing a child, and empty out multiple drawers and cabinets – all at the same time?
I have – and that is precisely why I now keep not one, not two, but three first aid kits in strategic locations around the house.
Have you ever had a day when you overslept, skipped breakfast, got stuck in traffic, and got into it with your boss? Or a day when your kids invented new and unusual ways to push your buttons, until you lost even a semblance of parental composure? A day characterized by Murphy’s Law, when stressor after stressor compounded to leave your sanity dangling by a thread?
What do you do in those moments?
Those moments are the emotional equivalents of standing amidst the contents of an upended junk drawer, cursing the missing bandaids and dripping blood all over the carpet.
What you need is some emergency self-care. And, as always, it pays to be prepared.
What Is A Self-Care Kit?
First aid kits contain the things we need to treat physical injuries. Self-care kits contain the things we need to manage emotional crises.
When you find yourself stretched to your breaking point, you need things that make you feel better, and you need them readily accessible.
But just as severe injuries require more than a first aid kit, psychiatric emergencies require more than a self-care kit. If you are experiencing severe distress, are in danger of harming yourself or others, or simply feel like you are past the point of self-care, please call 911 or a mental health hotline (such as the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255), or get to an emergency room.
Assembling Your Self-Care Kit
To create your self-care kit, you will need the following:
- A container. This can be a shoebox, a Rubbermaid bin, a backpack, or any other storage container. It all comes down to preference. Personally, I use a backpack for the portability factor. If you are artistically inclined, you may enjoy decorating and personalizing your container in a way that is meaningful to you. In any case, use something that you have the space for and can keep in a convenient location.
- A number of personally meaningful items. Your kit will include an assortment of objects, tailored to engage all five senses.
The end result is a collection of soothing items promoting full sensory engagement, available to you with minimal effort – an imperative when you are upset, stressed, or exhausted.
What Goes In a Self-Care Kit?
To help you get started on your own kit, I’ve compiled a list of potential items geared toward each of the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Some items will overlap and engage two or more senses – that’s a good thing! Tailor your kit to be as immersive as possible and individualized to your own needs and preferences.
- Photos. Include photos of loved ones, good times, or beautiful places. Include photos that represent your hopes, dreams, and goals. Prints of favorite paintings or other pieces of art are nice, too.
- Inspirational quote cards. You can buy a set that resonates with you, or make your own by decorating and writing on index cards.
- Affirmations. Write a list of positive affirmations on a sheet of paper or on index cards. Read them – aloud, if necessary – for a shift in mindset.
- Special cards or letters. If you’ve saved letters, notes, or cards from family and friends, find joy in re-reading them.
- Pens, paper, notebooks, or coloring books. Sometimes you may want to write, journal, sketch, color, or doodle.
- Favorite books or poems. Literature is a great source of inspiration, motivation, and escapism.
- Funny comics or jokes. They say that laughter is the best medicine. I like my kit to include at least one comic book, like a Calvin and Hobbes or Far Side collection.
- Headphones and CDs, an MP3 player, or a USB playlist. Music can be powerfully soothing. Try creating different playlists for different purposes, such as calming down, getting motivated, or blowing off steam.
- Audio visualizations, guided meditations, or nature sounds. Sometimes meditation is helpful. If you are anxious or upset, it helps to have an external focus.
- A singing bowl, tuning fork, soft bell, or small chimes. These gentle sounds also help with focus, and can be used to occupy the hands.
- Rainstick or bean jar. The sounds of a rainstick, like the pattering of raindrops on a roof, can be very soothing. If you don’t have a rainstick, you can make one out of a mason jar and some dry beans.
- Small, smooth rocks or trinkets. Some people call these worry stones or comfort stones. My self-care kit always includes a small quartz angel that my mom gave me; I like to hold it and warm it up in my hands.
- Stuffed animals. No matter your age, stuffies are soothing to hold, play with, and snuggle.
- Soft blanket. Wrap up in it to give yourself a warm hug. Some people find weighted blankets particularly comforting.
- Lotion. Massage and moisturize your skin. If you enjoy scented lotion, you’ll be engaging your sense of smell, too.
- Slippers or socks. It’s nice to slip your feet into something soft after you’ve slathered them with lotion.
- Head massager. Even though I no longer suffer from migraines, I continue to find these indispensable. Headache or not, they are wonderfully relaxing.
- Bean wrap. These are often filled with dried lavender or other fragrant herbs. Some can be cooled in the freezer or heated in the microwave to soothe tense or tired muscles.
- Spiky massage ball or massage roller. Often used to ease plantar fasciitis pain, these can also be rolled between the palms or used for self-massage.
- Eye pillow. Some are silk, some are beanbags, others are gel-filled, but they all soothe tired, strained eyes, and may facilitate a helpful nap.
- Chocolate. This is one of the first things I include in a kit – I’m nuts for squares of dark chocolate! I like to eat them very slowly and mindfully, allowing each bite to melt over my tongue.
- Hard candies. As with chocolate, you can melt them in your mouth, turning the experience into a bit of a mindfulness exercise.
- Favorite snacks. Your body deserves a yummy treat. Just make sure they are non-perishable!
- Tea, cocoa, or coffee. It never hurts to have a warm cuppa! If you find that you’re easily stimulated, choose caffeine-free items – the goal is to decrease, not increase, stress and agitation.
- Candles or wax melts. They are warm, they smell nice, and watching them burn can be relaxing.
- Essential oils. Many people find that aromatherapy helps relieve stress and anxiety. Scents like lavender, jasmine, and citrus are known to have calming and mood-boosting influences. There is also a wide variety of oil blends intended to evoke specific states, such as relaxation or invigoration.
- Body mist, perfume, or rose water. Spritz these over the face or body for a refreshing experience and aroma.
- Sachets. A small sachet of dried lavender or another fragrant herb is lovely both to smell and feel in the hands. As a bonus, it will likely infuse your entire kit with its aroma.
- Miscellaneous good-smelling items. Old books. A loved one’s shirt. Coffee beans. Smell is such an evocative scent. Include anything that calls to mind happy memories and pleasant associations.
Bonus: The One Item I Always Include In My Own Self-Care Kit
There is one item that I include in every self-care kit. It is my personal favorite, because this one small and inexpensive item effectively engages all five senses.
That item is a tea bag.
Here’s how one tea bag provides a full sensory experience:
- Sight: Tea bags often come packaged in visually-appealing, decorative tins or wrappers. Once opened, many teas (herbal teas, in particular) are composed of interesting, colorful leaves and flower petals.
- Hearing: I love crinkle sounds, and tea bags are one of the best sources of them. There are entire ASMR videos devoted solely to rustling tea bags!
- Touch: After taking a moment to appreciate the texture of the crinkling tea bag, I brew a hot mug of tea and feel it warm my cupped hands.
- Taste: I drink the tea slowly, savoring each sip.
- Smell: As I sip the tea, I take every opportunity to inhale the pleasant aroma.
Tips For Using Your Self-Care Kit
- Keep your kit handy. You don’t have to keep it out on display at all times, but don’t bury it in a drawer or stick it up high in a closet. Make sure you know exactly where it is, and keep it within easy reach. When you are tired, upset, or stressed, you won’t want to go shelf spelunking.
- Look through it from time to time. You may use your kit on a daily basis or incorporate it into an evening ritual. You may only reach for it on the worst of days. It’s entirely up to you. Just make sure you glance through it often enough to notice if your snacks are expiring, your lotions are leaking, and so on. You don’t want an unpleasant surprise in the midst of distress.
- Don’t be afraid to change it up. Your self-care kit is a work in progress. It’s okay if you realize you would rather keep a particular stuffed animal out on your bed, or find you prefer to cycle through a variety of items. There are no rules, except for doing what works best for you.
An Ounce Of Prevention
Over the years, I have helped many people make self-care kits, and I have assembled and used many kits of my own. They are useful tools for managing emotional turbulence and an increasingly stressful daily grind.
It pays to keep a well-stocked first-aid kit – possibly even two or three. A well-stocked self-care kit is no less important. Don’t wait for life’s stressors to pile up and leave you rifling through your metaphorical junk drawers, desperate to find that elusive bandaid. It’s like the Boy Scouts always say: be prepared!
I hope you are well-prepared to take good and gentle care of yourself, on both good days and bad. Are you planning to make a self-care kit, or do you already have one? What are some of your favorite self-care items? Let us know in a comment!