Self-Soothe Starter Kit: A First-Aid Kit for your Emotions
Self-Soothe with the 5 senses is one of my favorite skills for supporting your mental health and wellbeing. It comes from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT; Linehan, 2015). Think about a first-aid kit… you probably have one in your bathroom or maybe car (or both!) in case you or a loved one get hurt. A Self-Soothe Kit is like a first-aid kit for your emotions! When you have a scraped knee, you don’t necessarily want to go looking for the ointment and band-aids, right? Well, emotions are unpredictable and you never know when you might need some TLC. When you are feeling sad, angry, lonely or disappointed, it’s a lot easier to use this skill if you have a kit already set up and don’t have to search the house for objects. The kit uses items that help you self-soothe with your five senses – sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.
Here are a couple things to keep in mind while assembling and using your kit:
#1 We all find different things soothing and like to be comforted in our own ways. There is no right way. The ideas below are just suggestions. The key is to personalize your kit so that it is unique to you and your needs! You likely have some items already around your house and can gather them up or you can create an inexpensive kit with objects from Dollar Tree, the $1 aisle of Target or your local grocery store or 5 Below!
#2 See if you can bring a spirit of curiosity to this activity! Life can seem so serious all the time. Sometimes it helps to be open and play! Never used a rain stick before? Try it and see how you like it! Haven’t blown bubbles in decades? Go for it! Who knows what you’ll discover!
Now, let’s get to it!
Step 1: Find something to hold it all– This could be any box, bin, pencil case, makeup bag, basket, tote bag, container, etc. It sometimes helps to have one kit you keep at home or work and a traveling kit to keep in your backpack, purse, diaper bag or car. You can also create a self-soothe digital kit on your phone.
Step 2: Collect objects! Focus on your five senses and what feels soothing and comforting to you. Explore! Get creative! Be willing to try something new and be open to the possibility that it may help! If it does, add it to your kit!
Sight ideas: What sights make you feel calm and soothed? Maybe it’s pictures of landscapes, vacation spots, pets or loved ones. What can help you focus your attention until you calm down and figure out what to do next? I like Search and Find books like Where’s Waldo or Highlights (look online for free printables!) Virtual Hope Box, an app, has sudoku, photo puzzles, word search, solitaire, meditations and breathing exercises all available at your fingertips. Build a puzzle or Lego set. Blow some bubbles and watch them float away! I save old birthday cards and postcards with messages from family and friends. I also have a folder on my phone of videos of vacations, memorable events and my kids as babies. Follow social media accounts with calming, soothing images. Create a page, such as Pinterest, with items you like (home decor, hairstyles, food, animals, sports) or save favorite videos, shows and movie clips on a site such as Youtube. I personally like walking tours of foreign countries I’d like to visit or a live cam of the beach. Unlikely animal friendships or videos of babies laughing are go tos for many of my clients. Colorfly is a digital coloring book.
Sound ideas: Create a playlist of music you find soothing (remember, different people find different types of music soothing. There is no right or wrong!). Use soundscapes such as waves, rain or a crackling fire. White Noise Lite or YouTube are great for these. I love saving old voicemails that comfort me or make me smile. Create your own sounds with a rainstick (a bottle of uncooked beans works too!), drums, or singing bowl. Get some noise cancelling headphones for a soothing moment of silence. Listen to podcasts or audiobooks. Use a meditation app. I love 10 Percent Happier and Insight Timer (my daughter listens to the sleep stories every night!) Stop Breathe and Think is another family favorite, especially the tones and frog jumps! Breathe2Relax helps you focus on the sound of your breath.
Taste and Smell ideas: You can’t taste everything you smell, but you can smell everything you taste! Some ideas include: Piece of chocolate or hard candy. Mints. Stick of gum. Spicy or sour candy. Lollipop. Your favorite food. Tea or coffee. Chapstick. Gift card with some money to go grab a snack or a meal at a favorite restaurant. Make a meal. Bake. Some smell ideas include: candles, lotion, body wash, essential oils. I personally love the evergreen smell of Christmas trees or the scent of walking into a craft store! Peppermint, jasmine or lavender scents are also my favorites for grounding. Lemon or orange gives me some energy and focus when needed! Roll on sticks and diffuser bracelets are great for on the go! Sometimes smells like PlayDough, a new box of crayons, laundry fresh from the dryer or sunscreen evoke pleasant memories and sensations.
Step 3: Use the Self-Soothe Kit! Remember to use the kit when you feel distressed and need some comfort and support! You deserve it! Stay tuned for an upcoming blog on how to notice that you may need to self-soothe and additional ways to do it!
Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT® skills training manual (2nd ed.). Guilford Press
Dr. Christina Contrastano
Dr. Christina Contrastano is a clinical psychologist and mom whose mission is to make mindfulness and evidence-based therapeutic skills more accessible to busy parents to help them survive, and even thrive, in their parenting journey! Read more about her here: https://cbtcenterofcentralnj.com/drchristina-contrastano/.