Written By: Rachel Koutnik, LCSW

What have you been doing to take care of yourself?

This is the most important question I ask my clients. However, I am not only asking about what is done to take care of the physical body. When we minimize or avoid coping with our emotions there are often consequences to our minds, bodies, and relationships.

Self-care consists of learned behaviors and skills that grow and change with knowledge of healthy coping tools, understanding of oneself, awareness of what skills are healing to one’s mind and body, and consistent practice. Self-care routines can change daily. It is important to be aware of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations in one’s mind and body to practice the skills that best fit one’s needs each day.

Many people assume that self-care refers to the behaviors of eating well, having healthy sleeping patterns, and exercising regularly. However, there is so much more to be aware of than simply meeting those seemingly basic behaviors. Holistic self-care is achieved with the use of coping skills that enhance emotional and physical well-being.

A “Coping Skills Toolbox” can be created and customized to achieve holistic self-care. This toolbox can be a list or a creative project that is made to remind you of actions that can help decrease difficult emotions from internal or external triggers. Below are six areas of focus, meant to start the process of guiding you to check in with yourself when you need self-care and discover what you really need to reduce your level of distress.

  1. Self-Soothing
    This first area is used to comfort yourself using all or some of your five senses. When you are emotionally overwhelmed sometimes you need soothing. Things like petting a cat or dog, taking a shower, going outside and looking at the scenery can all be helpful tools to soothe rather than continue to stimulate the mind.

    • Something to touch (stuffed animal, blanket, stress ball, pet a cat/dog, hot/cold water)
    • Something to hear (music, meditation guides, podcasts)
    • Something to see (go outside, look at beautiful pictures, find soothing images online)
    • Something to taste (mints, your favorite smoothie or juice, healthy food)
    • Something to smell (candles, essential oils, incense)
  2. Distraction
    Distraction is meant to take your mind off the problem for a while. These tools are used when you feel flooded by your emotions and you need a break from your thoughts and current feelings. Distraction is meant to be used as a short-term tool, and once you are at a lower level of emotional intensity you can move onto other tools that allow for awareness and understanding the messages within the emotional experience you are having. Distractions include:

    • Puzzles, books, artwork, positive websites, music, movies, singing, painting
    • Affirmations and inspiration (looking at and/or drawing motivational statements or images)
    • Something funny (movies, television, books, YouTube videos)
  3. Movement
    Sometimes the body just needs movement to reduce emotional suffering. Movement physiologically works to change brain functions and literally can make you “feel better”. Try dancing or exercising and then assess how you are feeling. Movement activities include:

    • Dancing, walking, running, shaking out your body, or other forms of exercise
  4. Emotional Awareness
    These tools are used to identify and express your feelings. At times the most helpful tool is acknowledging emotions and processing feelings on your own. Use some of the following suggestions to start this process and work to release painful emotions through awareness and writing:

    • Make a list of your emotions, write in a journal, draw, express yourself through art
    • Make a list of negative and positive thoughts going through your head (compare and reflect on how those thoughts affect how you are feeling)
  5. Mindfulness
    Mindfulness skills are used for centering and grounding yourself in the present moment. When your mind is wandering into thoughts about the past or catastrophic thinking about the future then mindfulness tools will help bring you back into the present moment. Mindfulness tools include:

    • Meditation or relaxation
    • Yoga and breathing exercises
    • Focusing on what you are grateful for
    • Getting in touch with your spiritual beliefs and/or practices
  6. Crisis Plan
    A crisis plan is used when your individual coping skills are not enough and you require additional support to stay safe. You should always have a plan if your emotions and/or behaviors escalate and become a crisis. If you are having thoughts and/or have a plan/intent to harm or kill yourself or someone else these tools are needed and should be utilized:

    • Call 911 or go to your nearest Emergency Room
      • You have a plan/intent of harming yourself or others
      • You feel that you cannot keep yourself safe
    • National Suicide Prevention Hotline:1-800-273-8255
      • Free and confidential
      • Suicidal thoughts, emotional distress, crisis resources
    • Therapist
      • Always share when you are having thoughts of self-harm or suicide or if you are feeling overwhelmed by your emotions
      • Work with your therapist to formulate a plan to keep you and/or others safe
    • Psychiatrist
      • Medication management or to discuss medication options
    • Family/Friends
      • Emotional support and reduce isolation

I encourage you to be mindful of the practices you already incorporate into your self-care routines and think about the tools listed here that you are curious to try. Write them down, put them in a box or container, or make a list of the tools to keep on your phone, and access this toolbox when you are struggling with your emotions.

If you would like more support discussing your self-care routine and making your own Coping Skills Toolbox please contact Symmetry Counseling to be linked with one of our clinicians.