It’s the one strategy that’s helped me out more times than I can remember when trying to deal with debilitating symptoms and their accompanying emotions: Having a coping box.
When we’re in pain or despair, stressed or lonely, we can all use a little extra support to help us deal with those feelings. In the midst of intense emotions and excruciating pain, we often tend to forget how to best take care of ourselves and what we can do to overcome our problems.
Enter the coping box.
A coping box holds the things that calm you down or lift your spirits in times of distress. The physical items or lists with coping strategies also serve as a reminder to deal with hurtful thoughts, feelings and sensations in a positive way instead of falling back into bad habits or negative thinking patterns.
So What is a Coping Box?
A coping box can be literally that: a shoe box, basket, bag or trunk packed with soothing items that you can turn to when you’re having a (really) bad day. The box can contain anything that cheers you up, comforts you, offers relief from physical pain or prevents a relapse.
In my case, it’s never been a physical container, but a continually updated list with strategies to help me deal with worries, sadness and crippling exhaustion: from motivational movies to watch (preferably with female protagonists that kick ass), quotes from books, self-care ideas or big audacious dreams.
You could even create a place to retreat to, a quiet corner in your home with a comfortable chair, soft blanket and preferably a soothing view (the window, a plant or inspiring wall art) where you can calm down and collect your thoughts.
Why Should You Create a Coping Box?
When you’re struggling with chronic illness or mental health problems, having a coping box can help you in several ways:
- To identify and express your thoughts.
- To comfort you.
- To provide positive distraction.
- To fuel your sense of hope, motivation and perseverance.
- To shift your mindset from worrying and overanalyzing to a problem-solving mentality.
How Can You Create Your Own Coping Box?
You can put anything in your coping box that makes you feel good, but here are some ideas to get you started:
For Emotional Relief
Create a collection of things that engage your five senses to help you deal with difficult feelings or a mental health crisis:
- Books and movies. The right story at the right time is like a bandaid for a broken heart. Reading a book that’s related to your troubles or watching a movie that will put you in a better mood can be powerful coping tools when you feel lost. Here are some titles you could put in your coping box:
- Music. Create a playlist with upbeat tunes or beautiful lyrics, sing along with sad songs until you feel better or listen to natural sounds to calm your mind.
- Something soft to the touch: the beloved stuffed animal from your childhood, a warm blanket, cozy socks, prayer beads or sensory supplies to relieve stress (a stress ball, bean bags, weighted blanket).
- A journal. Trusting your innermost thoughts and feelings to paper can be a useful tool to process and accept challenging situations.
- Photos or mementos that take you back to happy times in your life and instantly put a smile on your face!
- Art supplies. Expressing yourself in a creative way can help you process your experiences and provide emotional relief. So put an adult colouring book and crayons, a knitting kit, jewelry making supplies or a copy of Wreck This Journal in your coping box if you enjoy creating things.
- Scents can trigger strong emotions and memories, more than any other sensory cue. Use this to your advantage by adding a sample of your favourite perfume, relaxing essential oils, scented candle or incense to your self-care kit.
- No matter the question, chocolate is the answer.
- Words with meaning – affirmations, quotes, religious passages, poetry or Everyday Bravery pins – can provide insights and help you make sense of your situation.
- Bach’s Rescue Remedy is a homeopathic blend that’s said to provide gentle relief for everyday stress or emergency situations.
- A list or vision board with your goals and dreams could motivate you to hang in there, to give it another try once you’ve dried your tears.
For Physical Pain & Discomfort
- Products that help you manage your pain: a cherry pit pillow, self-massage tools, herbal bath oils or a DIY sore muscle rub.
- Calming items that trigger your natural relaxation response, like chamomile tea, lavender essential oil, your favourite luxurious wellness products or magnesium oil spray to sleep soundly.
- A list of physical self-care ideas: a warm bath customized to meet your needs, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga exercises you can do in bed or going for a gentle walk to boost your circulation.
For Finding Solutions to Your Problems
- A note with a reminder: “What is the most important thing I can do right now to make my situation a little better?“
- “Prescriptions” about how you can best overcome your problems, such as tried-and-tested tips on how to avoid anxiety, rumination, self-harm or engaging in addictive behaviours.
- Detailed descriptions of helpful activities: calming breathing techniques, relaxation exercises, a meditation guide or your yoga mat and routine.
- Psychological therapy tools to manage your thoughts and emotions, such as an emotion chart to identify your feelings, a worksheet to recognize and challenge automatic negative thoughts or a record to strengthen your positive core beliefs.
- Draw up a crisis plan for when your problems become too much for one person to handle, including the contact information of caregivers, medical professionals or help lines when nothing else seems to work.
- Your personal recovery plan, with tiny, doable things you can do to boost your health and happiness in the short and the long run. Having a step-by-step program doesn’t just make you feel better once it’s implemented, but can also help you to regain a sense of control over the situation.
It’s important to note that after a while some items may stop working or that they now serve as a reminder of your coping efforts instead of positivity. So don’t hesitate to update your coping box whenever it feels right.
Which comforting things help you cope with pain or distress?
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