building your coping toolbox
The holidays can bring up an array of emotions: excitement of reuniting with loved ones, joy of upcoming rest and relaxation, the chance to foster or create new traditions. And yet, one can just as easily feel stressed, burnt out, and straight-up exhausted during the seasons of stuffing and mashed potatoes, gingerbread cookies and Michael Bublé Christmas carols, menorah lightings, and champagne toasts at midnight. If you find yourself falling into the group of those who might feel a little (or a lot) dispirited during this season, take some time to read through Mental Health America’s tips and wisdom for building your very own coping toolbox to help you get through the holidays with ease.
There are many lessons to take away from our experiences during the pandemic, including the importance of mental health. Everyone goes through periods of hardship and stress, and it’s important to take care of yourself. You should have tools on standby to use when times get tough – and many people will have some trouble or discomfort adjusting as our communities get “back to normal.”
A coping toolbox is a collection of skills, techniques, items, and other suggestions that you can turn to as soon as you start to feel anxious or distressed. No one thing works for everyone, and it may take some trial and error, but building a coping toolbox is a great way to be prepared for those times when your mental well-being starts to slip – think of it as a safety net.
Creating your toolbox can be as simple as writing a list (on your phone or on paper) of what helps, like breathing exercises or going for a run – this way, when you start struggling with your mental health, you don’t have to remember what to do or search for tips. You can also have a physical toolbox and fill it with things like a stress ball, written notes to yourself, and photos that make you happy. If you make a physical toolbox, it’s a good idea to still include a list of (non-physical) coping skills that help.
If you’re starting from scratch, here are some ideas:
Breathing exercises. There are many helpful breathing techniques you can try out. Relax your body (especially your neck and shoulders), pick a technique, and stick with it for a few minutes to give it time to work.
Breathe as deep as you can, hold for a count of five, and slowly exhale.
Breathe in for two counts, purse your lips like you’re going to whistle, and exhale for four counts.
Lay down and put your hand on your stomach or chest as you take deep breaths – focus on your hand rising and falling as you breathe in and out.
Call a friend. Sometimes we all need a reminder that our friends care about us and want to be supportive during the tough moments. List the people in your life that you know have your back to eliminate overthinking when you need to reach out. If you don’t have anyone that you’re comfortable opening up to, try calling a warmline.
Practice gratitude. Reflecting on things you are thankful for can help you change your mindset. Each time you do this, aim to come up with at least three things – but you can never list too many, and nothing is too simple to count.
Watch a funny movie. List some of your favorites so that you aren’t stumped about what to put on.
Use your five senses. Tuning into your sensory experiences can be comforting during intense moments.
Touch: stress ball, silly putty, stuffed animal, blanket
Hear: click a pen, pop bubble wrap, listen to a calming playlist
See: photos with loved ones, snow globe, affirmation/quote cards
Taste: sour candy, mints, tea
Smell: candle, scented lotion, essential oils
Distract yourself. Taking your mind off of the problem for a bit can help you come back to it with a fresh perspective. Funny videos, puzzles, and books are often great distractions. So are hobbies – write down some specific go-to ideas (like cross-stitching or baking a new recipe), so you don’t forget your options.
Repeat affirmations. Saying an affirmation or mantra with positive and personal meaning can bring calm. You can buy an affirmation deck online or just write your own on a notecard. Pick something that speaks to you: I believe in myself. Fear doesn’t control me. I let go of my sadness. I am safe.
Process your feelings. Diving into your emotions can help you find a healthy way out of that headspace. Link to (or print out) a feelings chart or remind yourself to journal to get everything in your head on paper.
Reach out to crisis resources. It’s important to know where you can go for help when you need it:
Mental Health America: Complete a free and anonymous mental health test. It is a first step in helping you decipher any symptoms you might be experiencing and where you might consider going for help. Need additional information, visit mhanational.org
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-8255 to reach a trained crisis worker. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free, and confidential support for people in emotional distress.
Disaster Distress Helpline: Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. The Disaster Distress Helpline (DDH) provides crisis counseling and support for anyone in the U.S. experiencing distress or other behavioral health concerns related to any natural or human-caused disaster, including public health emergencies like COVID-19.