We all know what to do if we cut our finger, get a mild headache or any other minor physical ailment and we know the importance of getting treatment before a problem potentially becomes more serious. How many of us are treating our mental health the same way though? Just like with our physical health, minor issues can arise at any time or we may simply feel ourselves sliding down the spectrum of optimum mental health. We often recognise physical symptoms of feeling a bit ‘under the weather’ such as sleep disturbances, changes in our appetite, aches and pains, a reduced immune system or generally feeling a bit run down and realise the importance of remedying these before they lead to further issues. It’s important that we also learn to recognise changes in our mental health and emotional wellbeing and have a plan in place to manage them in the same way.
By learning how to recognise when our mental health might not quite be at its best and having a few personalised remedies lined up to help alleviate any issues before they grow, we can make sure we look after our minds the same as we do our bodies. With physical health, a first aid kit is usually our first stop for treating everyday occurrences and we will generally find everything we need to further protect ourselves and promote healing such as plasters, bandages, creams and even medication. When it comes to our minds, however, many of us don’t know where to turn when we notice those telltale signs that issues may be arising. This blog aims to help you to create your very own mental health first-aid kit that you can turn to whenever you need support.
As mental health isn’t something that we can physically see, many of us struggle to grasp the concept of ‘treating it’ or even feel guilty or confused when we think we may need some help. It can often help to have physical aids that we can turn to help with this. A mental health ‘first aid kit’ is something we can access whenever we feel the need or we can even set aside time to spend with it regularly to help support and manage our mental health long-term. You can amend your kit over time depending on your wants and needs and the great thing is you don’t need anything specific to get started. The contents of your mental health first aid kit are completely personal and can be as creative or as simple as you like. I find it helpful to have a nicely decorated box or even a large gift bag or old rucksack you no longer use to store everything in and make it feel special but you could even do this as a vision board or scrap book simply using images of what’s in your ‘kit bag’ or you could even keep an album on your phone to scroll at the times you need it most. Below are some ideas of what your kit might contain but remember to make yours personalised to you and tune into what you really want and need.
A journal or notebook – Getting your thoughts and feelings onto paper can be a great way to manage periods of stress, anxiety or overwhelm. It can help us to see our thoughts more objectively once they’re down on paper as opposed to just whizzing around in our busy minds. See my previous blog on ‘Managing Stress and Anxiety’ for more ideas on journaling. You can also purchase guided journals or find journal prompts online if you need a little more direction or focus. These can help us to change our perspective to feeling more grateful, positive, organised and much more.
A coffee pod/ hot chocolate sachet/ individual tea bag – As the mind and body are inextricably linked, there’s nothing like a soothing, warm cup of your favourite drink to calm the mind. Practice mindfulness while drinking your favourite cuppa in peace and quiet – focusing on the taste, temperature, feel of the mug or cup etc. Use all of your senses and notice any worries or thoughts simply passing through as you focus your attention on the present moment.
Something that reminds you of a loved one – This could a friend, family member or even just somebody you admire. If you struggle with confidence, for example, it could be a photo of someone that you view as confident to inspire you. It could be a photo of your loved one, a gift they bought you, a reminder of some great advice they gave you or anything else that reminds you that you are loved and never alone.
A photo or reminder of your favourite place – Because when things get tough and we feel stuck in our heads, it always helps to remember there is a big world out there and these feelings will pass. You can even use this prop to aid visualisation whilst you take little mental holiday to transport yourself to your favourite place in your mind.
Your favourite film/ series/ book – This could be a physical copy or just an image. Whilst it’s important not to try to ignore difficult thoughts and emotions or run away from them, sometimes we all need a little escapism. Something to help divert our minds from worrying or overthinking can be a welcome break – bonus points if it’s something that makes you laugh because laughter has a whole host of additional mental and physical benefits!
A colouring book/ crossword puzzle/ sudoku/ jigsaw– Or whatever other kind of puzzle floats your boat. Activities like these require focus and can help us to access the state of ‘flow’, where we are fully engrossed in the present moment and so we get a break from letting our thoughts and feelings run riot in our minds!
A smooth pebble/ fidget poppers/ plasticine – Or anything else that helps with feelings of restlessness. Many people find that the physical act of having something like this in their hands helps to soothe anxious energy and has a calming effect both physically and mentally.
An exercise accessory – Such as a skipping rope, resistance band or even some (clean) walking socks! Even a short burst of physical activity can have a great positive impact on our thoughts and feelings and can soothe stress. Make sure your first aid kit helps you to get active whenever you might need it most!
Something comfortable – Whether it’s fluffy slippers, a big blanket, a soft toy or a cushion. Rest is very important to our mental health and when we’re feeling frazzled it can often be a sign that we need more of it. Again, the soft and warming physical touch of these items can have a wonderful impact on our mental health and promote rest and relaxation.
A helpful phone number – For a friend, family member or even a helpline if you feel you need it. When we are feeling at our worst it can be incredibly hard to reach out to others but it’s important to remember that you’re never alone. Even if you don’t want to talk about what’s bothering you, just catching up with someone about their day or what’s going on in their life can be a great lift and support.
Your favourite scent – This could be in a candle, bubble bath, room spray or aromatherapy roll-on but there are many scents including lavender and chamomile that have a calming effect on our nervous system and help to promote relaxation. Citrus scents are uplifting and energising but choose anything that feels soothing for you (gingerbread or pumpkin spice anyone?!)
DOGS! – Or more generally, something that makes YOU undeniably happy! – For me, as long as there are dogs in the world, I will find happiness. A photo of my canine family never ever fails to make me smile and so I have them as my screensavers, around the house and in my little box of happiness for whenever I need it (although for the record I’d love to keep a REAL little puppy in my bag all day to pop out whenever I need cheering up!) You might not be quite as ‘crazy dog lady’ as me (not many are), but I hope you have something that never fails to bring you joy and I hope that you make time for it whenever you can in your precious life.
I do hope you found some inspiration in these ideas but feel free to be as creative as you like with this and if none of my suggestions feel right for you then you can come up with all your own. The beauty of this is that it can be exactly what YOU need and you know yourself the best. You don’t need to share your kit with anybody else. Just like everything, this only works if we use it and so whilst you get used to having your kit around try setting time aside regularly, even just 5 minutes, to pick something from it to use. Keep it somewhere you will see it regularly. Let me know if you try this or something similar and what you have in your mental health first aid kit that supports you the most.
Bev Meakin – Personal Trainer/ Exercise Referral Officer and Complementary Therapist. Instagram @bevs_life