A self-care box is essentially a small collection of items that serve as a gentle reminder to slow down and to take care of yourself. These are especially useful when you’re struggling, however, you can definitely use them for maintenance or general self-care, as well.
I have seen many tutorials for self-care boxes on the internet that include items such as nail polish, face masks and bath bombs – especially for women identifying folks. There is absolutely nothing wrong with placing these types of items in your self-care box (I will definitely be adding my favorite face mask to mine – hello, moon velvet).
However, self-care boxes work best when they are balanced across several different dimensions of wellness. There are so many more aspects of being human than physical self-care. Moreover, many people experience crises in which a simplified self-care box (also known as a crisis intervention self-care box or emergency self-care kit) may be more practical and less overwhelming. This blog post will show you how to make both!
This blog post will consist of two parts. In part one, we will discuss evidence-based ways to take care of your mental health during times of crisis or emergency. In part two, we will cover some ideas on building general or maintenance self-care practices for deeper healing and longer term wellness benefits.
Have you ever felt so overwhelmed with emotion that your mind seems to shut down? Or perhaps your mind speeds up with anxious or negative thoughts. Have you ever felt emotionally numb? Perhaps you know the experience of feeling so ashamed and depressed that it feels the fog will never clear?
When we are suffering, it can be extremely difficult to move through our experiences and we may feel stuck. If you notice that parts of your mind seem to be offline, such as when you’re feeling dissociated, overstimulated, enraged or suicidal, then a minimal self-care box designed to help you reorient yourself to the present moment with compassion could be very useful. Let’s talk about how to begin building one for yourself.
Some ideas that you may wish to consider are items to help you practice grounding. Grounding helps us to regain a sense of present moment contact with the environment both inside our bodies and nearby. To ground, we use our 5 senses to observe. I would recommend including at least one item for each of the 5 senses in your emergency self-care kit.
I’ll add a list of some items you may wish to include for each of the 5 senses, but feel free to come up with your own ideas, as well, if you feel that something else would be helpful to you.
Sight: photo, artwork, mood or vision board, something in your favorite color, a glitter jar/calm down bottle…
Sound: a reminder of where to find your favorite playlists (create some in advance for soothing or grounding purposes on spotify or youtube), guided progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, soothing sounds (rain, ocean waves, thunderstorms…), music (binaural beats, solfeggio sound tones…), singing bowl, bells…
Touch: crystals, stones, therapy dough/therapy putty, fidget toys, stress relief balls, squishy toys, magnetic sculptures…
Smell: essential oils, candles, body lotions, coffee beans, palo santo, incense…
Taste: dark chocolate, hard candy, chewing gum, tea, breath strips, edible lip sugar scrub…
Another option is to add some snacks and something to remind you to hydrate. Sometimes when we’re feeling depressed or anxious, a nutritious meal or snack can go a long way. If you are struggling with low appetite and/or getting motivated, please proceed with compassion and be realistic about what you need in the moment. If you think food items may be helpful to you during a crisis, I would recommend something quick and at least somewhat nutritious. Some of my favorite go to items are soups, granola bars and protein smoothies.
If you feel you would benefit from a crisis intervention self-care box, I do recommend that you keep this self-care box simple and easy to access. Keep in mind that if we have too many items in our emergency self-care kit that don’t apply to a crisis situation, it can quickly become more overwhelming and impractical.
One thing that I do to prevent myself from becoming more overwhelmed when using my self-care box is to keep my crisis kit in a separate bag. That way, these items are easy to access since I just can pull it out of my self-care box without really focusing too much on the more maintenance self-care items (that I’m not ready for in the moment).
I also highly recommend keeping a list of pre-determined supportive people for a quick reminder that you are not alone in this world and that you may reach out if you need connection or help.
I would also recommend keeping a copy of your safety plan in your emergency self-care kit. This would typically include supportive contacts and personalized steps to help you stay as safe as possible. A safety plan can be especially useful if you experience things like self-harm, suicidal ideation or other safety concerns. If you’re living in a domestic violence and/or other abusive situation, it may also help to seek guidance on customizing your safety plan even further. This website might help you.
If you’d like to learn more about creating a standard mental health safety plan, please download the self-care box ultimate guide by clicking on the image below.
If you’re feeling safe and present enough to do some longer term self-work, I would recommend creating a self-care box using your personal values as inspiration. In this part of the video, I want to share some ideas to improve your connection and relationship with yourself on a more regular basis.
Are you being too tough on yourself lately? Overworking and not playing enough? Perhaps a self-care box designed to make time and space just for you could be a life changer.
My absolute favorite value to choose when I’m struggling is self-compassion. Self-compassion is the practice of caring for ourselves when we are hurting. Many people also describe self-compassion as providing the same care to ourselves as we would give a close friend or loved one. It is so much more effective than dismissing ourselves, denying the impact of our experiences or bullying ourselves for being imperfect, for being human.
For this reason, I like to keep a stack of my favorite self-compassion quotes and worksheets readily available for when I’m making contact with difficult thoughts and emotions; such as shame, grief, numbness and anxiety. If you’d like to learn more about creating your own self-compassion worksheets, please visit this blog post here.
My second favorite go-to self-care tip is to give yourself permission to play and to rest. How do you fill your cup? How do you recharge your batteries?
Another helpful healing tool for many people is meditation. I absolutely recommend creating playlists on YouTube to organize your favorite meditations. I printed out a screenshot of one of my playlists to serve as a reminder that this is an option if I need it. Some people also enjoy creating playlists of their favorite music. I personally enjoy binaural beats when I need to self-soothe and I also find them helpful when I’m experiencing difficulty falling asleep.
Another value that brings me fulfillment is connection, and so I keep a list of compliments from loved ones as well as a list of situations in which I reached out for support and was met with empathy and care. I also have a mini journal where I can plan daytrips that I want to go on with my loved ones.
You may have noticed that I am a big fan of making lists. It may also help to keep a record of accomplishments. I especially like to include times in which I have overcome hardships in the past, as a reminder that I am capable of moving through challenges. I also find it helpful to keep a running list of my strengths; so that I can turn to self-appreciation when I need it the most. These are all ideas that help me, but there are endless possibilities here! I recommend experimenting with some ideas and filling your self-care box with your favorite coping strategies.
You may also wish to consider different categories of self-care and wellness, so that you can work on maintaining balance in your life. Some of the most popular categories are spiritual, physical, emotional, psychological, professional, social, finance and environment. The amount and definitions of categories may vary from one dimensions of wellness model to another, but there are definitely similarities across the board.
For example, physical self-care includes caring for the health of your body through actions such as practicing good sleep hygiene, regular movement, staying hydrated and proper nutrition. Professional self-care includes topics such as boundaries with customers, patients and coworkers as well as fostering a sense of purpose and fulfillment through work. If you’re interested, feel free to research the dimensions of wellness for information and inspiration on how you might personalize your self-care box even more. One of my favorite 6 dimensions of wellness resources can be found by clicking this link here. SAMHSA also created a super helpful 8 dimensions of wellness packet with worksheets, which can be found here.
Of course, it is important to practice maintenance self-care regularly. However, a self-care box is typically reserved for times of crisis. I would recommend creating one or two self-care boxes (keeping crisis items and maintenance items separate) depending on your personal self-care needs. Here is a review of what you may wish to include in each type of self-care box:
I’ve created an Ultimate Self-Care Box Guide to help you, which also includes general safety planning education.