Guest Blog: What is a Self-Care Kit and How to Make One by Ophelia Brown

*Content Warning: This post mentions mental illness but does it as gently as possible to make it accessible for everyone. The only major trigger is talking about alternatives for hurting yourself.*

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(Link to Twitter thread with photos of each item listed https://twitter.com/opheliajcbrown/status/1222181991862427648?s=19)

Everybody knows self-care is an extremely important part of mental health. Even if the “stay hydrated” memes are getting a bit old at this point, it still is true that we need to look after our minds and bodies if we want to stay happy and healthy. But everyone, even the most active self-care Instagram account, is going to have a down day. 

They’re going to have a time when they skipped head day at the gym and let their self-care routine slip and suddenly they’re starting to feel stressed out. Or maybe they made sure to go to therapy this week and did all their usual routines but they still ended up feeling awful. Sometimes we don’t need a reason to feel bad, we just do. The point is, we feel bad and we need help feeling better.

One of the hardest parts about feeling down is that it’s really difficult to find something to do that will cheer you up. Sometimes it’s hard to find anything to do at all. You can feel so unmotivated or foggy that coming up with an idea may seem impossible. That’s where the idea of a self-care kit comes in. Having a bag full of things that will calm you down, distract you, or even just make you smile or laugh, can be hugely beneficial for stopping a panic attack, distracting from crisis thoughts, or curing boredom if lack of activity can be a trigger for you.

I use my kit to help myself cope with my chronic pain and my mental illnesses and I’m going to use it as an example of what you could put in yours!

A couple disclaimers before we begin!

 You don’t need to have money or be able to buy new things to make a self-care kit! You can use things you already have if it’s easier, or go shopping if that makes you happy. The creation process should be therapeutic, not stressful. I used a mix of new and old things!

I’m not a mental health expert! What I put in my kit is stuff that makes me happy and calm, things that I know will relax me in a panic attack. What you put in yours is up to you and the process will help you learn about yourself and your health, that’s what makes it so great!

Item Number 1: A Bag
Something to put all your self-care materials in! It can be a bag, a box, a case. Anything that works for you! I chose one with a cheery design on it and you can too, but what’s important is that it’s big enough to hold all the wonderful things inside!

Item Number 2: Lists
When I get panicky I struggle to find something that will calm me down, so I made a folder of different categories of lists so it’s easy for me to remind myself of my options. I have lists of music, movies, TV, games, activities, and friends to talk to.

Item Number 3: A Journal and Pencil Case
For writing out your feelings, jotting down happy memories, penning letters that will never be sent, collecting your favourite inspirational quotes. Mine says “do all things with great love”, but a school notebook will do just fine.

Item Number 4: A Photo Album
A collection of happy memories to look at when you’re feeling down. To remind yourself that there are good times, that you’re not alone, that you can laugh. Any photo is valid, from fancy photoshoots to silly snapchat selfies. Pet photos extra valid.

Item Number 5: Headphones (and adapter)
These don’t need to be headphones, they can be any earbuds, or even a speaker. The point is something to listen to music with! I chose headphones because they’re more comfy and sound better. The adapter is because I have a silly iPhone.

Item Number 6: Essential Oils and Oil Diffuser
Essential oils are aromatic compounds extracted from plants that retain the natural smell. The smells of different essential oils can be used to stimulate areas of your limbic system which can have a calming or rejuvenating effect!

Item Number 7: A Pillow
For hugging and cuddling if you need comfort, or throwing and hitting if you need an alternative to hurting yourself. It’s soft and safe and wont hold grudges. I chose a toddler pillow that was small enough to fit in my bag! Also for spontaneous naps.

Item Number 8: A Stuffed Animal
You can’t go wrong with a soft, cuddly friend! They’re always there to listen, and ready for a hug. The one in my kit is a small bumblebee because I already have many other, larger friends on my bed! You can put an old friend or find a new one!

Item Number 9: A Fidget Toy
A fidget spinner? Is this 2017? Fidget spinners are actually pretty fun and relaxing! And a great distraction if you’re anxious. If they aren’t your thing there’s dozens of other fidget toys out there that could be perfect for you!

Item Number 10: Playdough
I haven’t opened a tub of playdough since I was a kid and woah, nostalgia city! Not only is it fun, it’s also a great sensory toy for anxiety. You can fidget with it to calm down or focus on building something with it to distract yourself further!

Item Number 11: A Colouring Book and Markers
This is one of my favourite ways to calm down! Focusing on colouring the picture and staying in the lines takes all of my concentration, and that distracts me from my anxiety. You don’t need to do it my way though, just have fun!

Item Number 12: Books
Picture books! Or any books, really! Your favourite books, whatever makes you happy! I chose picture books because they’re easier for me to read when I’m foggy and they make me happy. I put my favourites in the bag and made a list of the ones I couldn’t fit.

Item Number 13: Stickers
Everything’s better with stickers! I chose some cute little stars and smiley faces to give myself rewards for getting through a panic attack or using a coping skill. I think your favourite pop culture character or adorable animals would be cute too! 

Item Number 14: Squishies or Stress Relievers
Another sensory item that’s a great for distraction or calming! I chose some little animals that you can squish and stretch. They’re tactile and make me smile ‘cause they’re cute! Things like stress balls or bean bags can work too.

Item Number 15: Affirmations
I have a jar of stars! A lovely friend gave it to me a few years ago and I’ve treasured it ever since. Each paper star unravels into a reminder or something else positive. You could make this craft yourself, or use a notebook to do the same thing!

Item Number 16: A Worry Stone
A smooth stone with an indentation the shape of your thumb on one side that you can rub. It’s another fidget object, but with this one you can choose which stone you’d like depending on the crystal properties you need! My stone says “healing” on it.

Item Number 17: Something Silly
Something to lighten the mood! Find an item that will always make you smile or giggle. I chose a little wooden frog instrument that makes a ribbiting sound when you play it. Blowing bubbles are another really great option, I’m trying to find some!

That’s everything in my self-care kit! I really hope this inspires you to build your own kit, or even just dedicate a couple minutes today to self-care because you deserve it! Remember that mental health is achievable for everyone. Thank you for reading! 

You got this!

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