When I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital last year, I learned a lot of coping skills for taking care of myself when my mental health is suffering. I learned a lot of the standard coping skills including journaling, the importance of seeing a counselor regularly, trying to exercise regularly, and relaxation techniques such as meditation and mindfulness.

One day during my stay at the hospital, a mental health technician noticed I was struggling and asked me how I typically use coping skills when I am not doing well in my everyday life. I told her that using coping skills had never been my forte.

She introduced an idea to me that sparked my interest and is something that I still use now whenever I start to feel down or anxious.

A DIY “Mental Health Self-Care Kit”  

It’s easy, and you can be creative, which is the best part. Use your own style and make it as simple or detailed as you want it to be.

  • First, find an old shoe box or a dollar-store box that you can use, and will fit somewhere easily enough that you can grab it whenever you need it.
  • Gather your items:
  • Sight – Put something into your box that you can look at. I like to put in aesthetically pleasing pictures or photos of friends, family, and pets that can bring a sense of positivity and calm. Perhaps you will want to include a favorite book, some inspirational quotes or motivational quotes. Something helpful that you could include is birthday cards or written letters from friends, family or significant others you have been given in the past.
  • Smell – Something that has always had a positive effect on my mood is a pleasant aroma. Include some essential oils in your box, or some incense sticks. The best aromas for a calming effect are lavender and clary sage oils. Essential oils can be diffused or used topically, or you can just pop open the bottle for a whiff of your favorite aroma.  You could also include some of your favorite candles in the box. My favorites are vanilla, cinnamon, and other comforting scents that remind me of baking.
  • Taste – It’s always a good idea to keep a bit of your favorite chocolate around for an off day. Chocolate is very comforting and can help boost your mood in any situation. If chocolate isn’t your thing, keep a sample of your favorite candy or a granola bar in your box; Something that will comfort you. Tea is another thing I like to keep in my box. Hot tea (or hot cocoa), while I am anxious or just having a bad day, is a great remedy.
  • Sound – Something I have found helpful is to keep a meditation CD ready to go inside my box. Guided meditation is great for helping you to calm down when you are in an anxious mood, or just need to relax in general. It is also great before bed to ease you into a deep sleep. Another helpful item for your box would be to keep a playlist of your favorite songs, or songs you know will help boost your mood or calm you down. It may also be helpful to keep a small mp3 player (if you have access to one) inside your box loaded with relaxing songs, sounds and a playlist of songs to play when you are feeling down.
  • Touch – Growing up, I had a blanket that was my comfort object. I still use my baby blanket to this day. Something you might consider doing is to take a patch of your favorite childhood blanket (if you don’t still use it), or just a soft piece of material, and add it to your box. You could also add a small stuffed animal to your box for comfort. Stress balls and fidget cubes (or something similar) for when you’re feeling anxious or stressed,  may also be a good idea to keep in your box.
  • Activities – Putting things inside your box that will keep you occupied during an anxious moment or a day that you’re feeling down may also help. I have often found it helpful to keep myself distracted during these times. Some suggestions for items to keep you distracted are coloring books and colored pencils, a journal, or your favorite movie or game. Whatever works for you!

These boxes are completely open to your interpretation. I was never great with finding a coping skill that worked well for me, but this was something fun and creative, and whenever I have an “off day,” an anxious moment, or a panic attack, I can turn to my box for comfort.