Mental Health First Aid Kit
I would like to create a comfort kit to take with me for my son, who struggles with anxiety – what kinds of things should I include in it?
Signed: Being Prepared
Dear Being Prepared,
That’s a terrific idea – for kids and adults alike. Having a little mental health first aid comfort kit that we can turn to when our anxiety or depression (or any kind of negative emotional reaction) surges is the perfect way of handling our feelings in the moment. And just knowing we have this kit ready in case it is needed will go a long way in some positive preventative support as well. Here are some handy items to add to your crisis kit:
- Candy – having something to suck/chew on keeps the saliva glands flowing and makes it impossible for the brain to have a full-on anxiety attack (using candy that puts the brain into shock mode with its sourness is also a great strategy). There is something quite soothing about a piece of candy that is tied to happy memories (like a butterscotch or mint that reminds us of someone we love). Happy hormones get released when physiological senses (like taste and smell) are used to guide the brain back to more pleasant moments.
- Stuffies, Pictures and Sentimental Items – having a favourite comfort item will calm the stress hormones and allow the brain to feel safe and protected.
- Ice packs – these are fantastic for cooling down agitated, heated moments of stress. The shocking cold sensation causes the brain to abandon the emotional reaction in order to switch on the survival cognitive process, as it tries to determine where that freeing cold is coming from.
- Fidgets – give the brain something else to focus on by turning to a thoughtful distraction. This could be a pen, a coin, a piece of silly putty or slime, a stress ball or a worry stone. It could also be a game on a phone or digital device.
- Rice/Bean Bag – a few of these, heated up or at room temperature, provide a nice amount of weight/pressure across a person’s upper back/shoulder regions. When weight is added to this part of the body in particular, calming hormones are released in the brain. Many people find the sensation of heaviness soothing no matter where it is felt on the body – so use the rice bags on the legs, chest or arms if preferred.
- A Fuzzy Blanket and a soft pillow – the act of cocooning one’s self (face buried or open to the air – your preference) is a time-honoured soothing technique. The fuzzier the blanket, the more emotional warmth it seems to provide. Pillows can be a terrific tool to help release a good scream/cry, give ourselves a loving hug, or create a security shield from the world.
- Music and Headphones – have a playlist handy that transports the listener back to happy thoughts and secure feelings. Pop on the headphones and drown out the rest of the world for a few wonderful songs.
- Aromatherapy – keep little bottles of lavender, chamomile, or eucalyptus oil handy – fill baby jars with fresh coffee grounds/beans – or use hand creams that radiate the fragrances that work best to relax the nerves. Citrus anything (lemon, orange, lime, grapefruit) has been shown to reduce anxiety and depression by up to 70%.
- Colouring books or journals with lots of blank pages – putting pencil to paper allows a creative outlet for feelings – drawing, writing or colouring allows this release, so the emotion doesn’t get trapped inside the person.
- Water and snacks – remember to boost the body’s wellness when there are emotional struggles. We need extra hydration and caloric energy to maintain our balance, and to dump excess stress hormones that are being produced. Being able to focus on tasks (like eating/drinking) that are easily achievable and within our immediate control help us re-regulate a sense of control.
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