IMG_7839We’re in the middle of a pandemic and it’s mental health awareness month. A perfect time for me to share this concept with y’all, and how I actually set mine up to make sure I took advantage of it.

Mental health toolboxes are a pretty common concept. They go by lots of names — wellness toolboxes, recovery toolboxes — but y’all know I love a toolbox by any name.

The idea is to develop a somewhat short list of things you can do to fight off whatever triggering feelings are happening. It should be individual to you and it should be short enough that you’re not overwhelmed by the list itself. And, it should be specific so you’re not sitting there going, “but meditate HOW” when you need to just be doing the thing.

To create your own toolbox, I recommend grabbing a piece of paper right now and writing down things that are soothing or comforting for you. My list includes things like herbal tea, links to meditations, pigeon pose, crafting, worry stone, thinking putty, mala beads. It does not include running, which might surprise you, but there are two reasons why: sometimes running is a stressor, not a stress reliever; and, I can’t always just take off running when things aren’t going well. It might fit on your list, though!

Now, grab your notebook. Jot some things down. And, here’s two good sources to help you build your own list: Psych Central and Tempest.

Narrow down your list to 5-10 items. Mine ended up with 11; three of them are links to specific meditations. It doesn’t have to be exact. I would suggest if your list is longer than 10-12, give it a few weeks and maybe you’ll notice some can be cut.

When I created my list I thought, okay, great. A lot of the articles recommend writing it on a piece of paper and carrying it around. Unlikely to work for me — even my wallet isn’t on me at all times. But you know what is? My damn phone, for better or for worse. Granted, I have an iPhone so if you’re using something else, you may have to improvise.

I thought about using Notes or Evernote for this list, but instead went with one of hte apps I use the most regularly: Reminders. I created a new reminder list called Toolbox (and there’s even a totes cute little suitcase icon you can use for it). Each toolbox item is on the list, and Reminders will let you add a link, too. I have three meditations on my list and there’s a link to each one. (I actually made meditation one task and the three specific ones subtasks but um, you don’t have to do that.)

Anything on that list that is a physical object — tea, worry stone, putty — are all in a little blue pouch that I carry around. Some of the objects are duplicated at my office just in case I don’t have my pouch. Or, I can take an object out and put it in my pocket.

I open my toolbox list when things are feeling very sideways and I need a timeout. I wanted my list to be things that are immediately accessible in any situation. Let me know if you have one or make one — what made it on your list?

If you or a loved one are suffering, call the NAMI helpline at 800-950-NAMI. In a crisis, text NAMI to 741741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255. (Also, save these numbers in your phone — for you, or to quickly send to a loved one.)