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What's in your mental health toolkit?

Have you ever watched those action films where the main character has a “go” bag, packed and ready when an emergency calls her away?

You know the ones when a disaster hits in another part of the world and she needs to leave immediately and be prepared to stay away for weeks, perhaps months, at a time.

The bag holds all her essentials necessary for a long trip, but is light enough to grab quickly and is easily handled while on the move.

While a disaster-ready bag is a good plan for all of us these days, a similar idea can help us through stress-related or anxiety-provoking mental health emergencies that we sometimes face in our daily lives.

Like a go bag, a mental health toolkit must be packed carefully to be easily accessible when an emergency happens. It should hold tools that help calm us, deepen our breathing, and relax our muscles. IAnd, it should have proven techniques that we’ve used in the past to get us through a stressful time more easily.

Unlike a go bag, mental health kits are not physical toolboxes but a mental or written list of strategies that have been proven to work. They work best when they’re personalized.

If you don’t have a toolkit prepared and ready to use when anxiety, stress, or depression hit, I encourage you to start one. There are many possible tools to choose from but it takes time and attention to know which ones will work best for you. Once you have a few that you know work, write them down and return to them whenever you need a quick energy boost or calming practice.

Here’s a few ideas to choose from to get started. When trying them out, notice if they make you feel calmer. Which ones expand your thinking or ease your anxiety? Which help you feel more physically relaxed? These are the ones to add to your mental health toolkit.

Keep a journal: Whether you prefer to write out your feelings, record the highlights of your life, or list what makes you feel grateful, a regular journaling practice can help you process your life in a tangible way and let go of strong emotions more easily. It’s a private space where you can express your best or worst thoughts without repercussions.

Movement: Any regular physical activity can help you feel more grounded and improve your mood. It doesn’t need to be hardcore, no-pain-no-gain exercise. Movement can be a slow walk around the block or on the beach. Yoga or HIIT routines will work, as will physical work like house cleaning, especially if you pump up the volume and dance while you clean.

Deep breathing: This is a good tool to pull out when you are suddenly flooded with strong emotions or painful thoughts. Spending at least a minute focused on your breath and slowing down your inhales and exhales gives your body and mind more oxygen, a key tool to calm the fight or flight response in your body and reduce stress.

Self-care: Self-care can be any tool that helps us physically be more stable and grounded. It is sometimes misunderstood or confused with pampering routines, but caring for ourselves is an important commitment to supporting our mental well-being. Self-care strategies can range from eating well to getting a massage, or simply getting eight hours of sleep each night.

Dance like no one is watching: The power of singing and dancing can shift your thinking in positive ways in just a few minutes. Make a playlist for the times you need a happy boost and fill it with songs that feel good and make you want to move.

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