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What are the tools in your emotional first aid kit?

Well, I don’t know about you, but these last few weeks have been pretty challenging.

From the emotional impact of world events like Charleston, to the big and small life stressors of the everyday, I (and most of the people I know) seem to have had it particularly rough these past few weeks.

It was – except for bright spots like the SCOTUS ruling on marriage equity – #lovewins ! – a stretch of time where tons of stressors seemed to converge all at once and none of my own daily self-care routines felt sufficient to support me through the challenges of those days and weeks.

So that’s when I turned to my emotional first aid kit.

What are the tools in your emotional first aid kit?

What’s an emotional first aid kit?

It’s a set of practices, behaviors, and creative interventions I’ve cultivated over the years that helps me support my body, mind, heart, and soul when times are particularly tough and I need to ramp up my self-care big time.

All of the tools in my emotional first aid kit are unique (read: quirky) and super, almost inexplicably effective for me.

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It’s taken me time to identify these tools and behaviors, to accept that they look different from what’s usually prescribed in women’s magazines (i.e.: yoga, meditation, green juice), and it’s definitely taken even more time to learn when I need to employ them (the most).

But having this set of strategies that I can now lean on when times are particularly tough is a big part of my own ongoing self-care and something I feel passionate about sharing and helping my clients to develop, too.

So today I want to lead you through some inquiries to help you identify what might make it into your emotional first aid kit for those times when life just feels overwhelming.

Emotional First-Aid Kit 101: What It Is and Isn’t:

Just to recap, an emotional first aid kit is totally proverbial (no actual toolboxes required!).

It’s a set of unique practices, behaviors, and creative interventions designed to comfort, support, and bring relief to your body, mind, heart, and soul in particularly challenging times.

These are some tools you can pull out when it seems like everything’s going wrong and your standard self-care routines just aren’t cutting it for you anymore.

An emotional first aid kit is an ongoing practice of self-awareness and self-care, supporting you in recognizing what you need, and getting curious and creative about how you can meet your needs through life’s many ups and downs.

For the purposes of today’s exercise, I’m going to walk you through the four areas for which we want to develop tools and invite you to identify 2-3 creative interventions for each area.

This will be the foundation of your own ever-evolving emotional first aid kit.

Body: Feel, Nourish, and Soothe.

When life’s tough times hit, we want to have some tools in our toolbox that we can use to help feel, nourish, and soothe our body.

Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean things like exercising for 20 minutes or drinking a daily green smoothie (though if that sounds like just what you need in tough times, rock on).

Instead, what I want you to start identifying are activities or practices you know that would help you get into your body and engage your five senses – smell, taste, touch, sight, and hearing – in a way that feels appropriate and helpful for you and you alone.

For examples, one of my emotional first aid body go-to’s when my schedule’s overly full and I’m feeling overwhelmed by life and professional commitments is hopping on my bike and riding it along the Bay while blaring Florence + The Machine’s Shake it Out on repeat through my earbuds.

And while I absolutely love yoga and getting on my mat regularly, when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed is the feeling of freedom that comes from riding my bike long and hard.

That combined with the smell of the sea and the repeated reminder from Florence to shake my stress off does wonders for me.

I don’t know what your body-based tools will be, but here are some inquiries to help you brainstorm:

  • What’s the sort of stress you’re experiencing? Do you feel trapped or too uncontained? What’s a physical activity that can support giving you more space (if feeling trapped) or containment (if you’re feeling uncontained)?
  • What did your 8-year old self most love to do with her body?
  • What does your body crave when you’re stressed? Touch? Childhood comfort food? Stretches? Connection with the earth? Space?
  • Can you combine a few activities into one to engage several senses of your body at once? (Eg: Music and movement?)

Mind: Still, Center, Focus.

When stress hits, it’s not unusual for our minds to feel frazzled, chaotic, and near-impossible to shut off.

That’s why it’s important to have one or two practices or behaviors in your back pocket to help still, center, and focus your mind.

And I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I’m really having a tough time, 20 minutes of meditation just isn’t really an option for me.

Instead, what I’ve found to be particularly helpful is listening to the chanting of Deva Premal and The Gyuto Monks of Tibet and tidying up my kitchen.

For whatever reason, the combination of this music and the act of tidying something a little messy brings so much stillness and calm to my mind when I’m frazzled and just can’t still myself for 20 minutes of meditation.

Now it’s your turn:

  • What creative, alternative actions and behaviors might help you to still, center, and focus your mind?
  • Is there a task you do with your hands that seems to calm your mind? Does noticing your breath feel helpful to you?
  • Are there certain sounds that soothe your mind? Can you Google or Spotify those sounds up and create a playlist for yourself?
  • If your minds feels frazzled, what action can you take that’s soothing? If your mind (and life) feels untidy or unruly? How can you do something to help bring order to your mind?

Heart: Notice, Express, Feel.

When life feels overwhelming and you’re having a hard time, it’s critical to have some tools in your emotional first aid kit to support you in noticing, expressing, and honoring your feelings.

Like I’ve mentioned before, appropriately feeling and expressing our feelings is foundational to good mental health and to living a more enlivened, enriched life.

And so, when I’m having a hard time, my go-to tool to support my heart is relying on my Big Five – my go-to beloved friends, family members, and mentors, people who I feel totally safe and supported in being honest and vulnerable with.

For me, no heart-supporting tool is more effective than sharing what’s going on with someone who loves me. But what about you?

Soul: Connect, Ground, Trust.

Last, but not least, I believe that designing tools that nourish and support our soul is an incredibly important part of any emotional first aid kit.

Define the soul however you want – spirit, essence, psyche, etc. – I personally believe that our soul is the unchangeable, indestructible part of us that breathes and lives us, the part of us that always was and always will be and that we often forget to consciously tend to in the minutiae of our everyday human lives.

For me, I know that consciously feeding my soul helps me better weather whatever it is I’m going through.

And one of the (quirky) tools that I have in my emotional first aid kit for this is the combination of listening to Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ audiobooks and drinking hot chocolate.

For whatever reason, the combination of Jungian mythos (did you know that stories speak straight to the soul?) and liquid chocolate (I don’t think this needs an explanation) is a soul-strengthener for me of the highest order.

Even more effective if it’s outside watching the ocean or the sunset.

So let’s see what might help you.

  • When is it that you feel the stirrings of your soul? What place, activity, sound, or action helps you feel this part of you?
  • Does nature feed you? What places help you connect to your soul the strongest?
  • Do you have a spiritual community or faith group that you can lean on? What people serve as guides and mentors in your life that help nourish your soul?
  • What high-quality inspirational or instructional content can you read or listen to that can guide you in connecting to your soul?

My Invitation To You.

I want you to go back through this blog post and write down 2-3 ideas for body, mind, heart, and soul that might be tools you can use in your own emotional first aid kit.

And please share any or all of your brainstormed tools and ideas here in the comments of the blog!

Your idea of a tool may just be the thing that sparks inspiration and creates support for someone else so please share generously. I can’t wait to hear what you come up with!

If you would like additional support right now and you live in California or Florida, please feel free to reach out to me directly to explore therapy together.

Or if you live outside of these states, please consider enrolling in the waitlist for the Relational Trauma Recovery School – or my signature online course, Hard Families, Good Boundaries, designed to support you in healing your adverse early beginnings and create a beautiful adulthood for yourself, no matter where you started out in life.

And until next time, please take very good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.

Warmly, Annie


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  1. Carol says

    Hi Annie, another thought provoking post. Self care has always taken a backseat in my life, I’m better at taking care of others. Though my one go-to ” tool ” in dark challenging times is a hot bath and a cup of tea. Sitting in hot water soothes my body, mind, and soul. I can cry, let my mind wander, and let my feelings be what they are. Baths have always been a safe place for me. I’m working on trusting one or two people to include in my tool box though. Thank you Annie, for creating a space for those of us who want to be better versions of ourselves no matter what stage of life we may be in.

    • Annie says

      Hi Carol,

      Thank you so much for sharing one of your “tools” with me. I really appreciate your share. I likewise think baths are magical places and am so glad you find safety and comfort in them. And regarding trusting people to include in your toolbox, if this feels safe and supportive to you, terrific! But if that’s not what you need/want right now as support, that’s okay, too. There’s really no wrong way to do this.

      I’m really touched to hear you felt this post was helpful. Thank you so much again for sharing it’s lovely to hear from you.

      Warmly, Annie

  2. Kathryn says

    I love this so much Annie! Thanks for the provocative suggestions – and sharing your own solutions. SO HELPFUL! For me … “legs up the wall” is always soothing. Yesterday my friend recommended I try it with a pastry in hand (and mouth) – so something to ponder 🙂 But there’s something about looking at the world from another perspective (ground level, upside down) that centers me.

    • Annie says

      Hi Kathryn,

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I’m so glad it felt helpful to hear about some of my “tools” and I have to say: I love the one you shared! Leaning against the wall with legs up and pastry in hand – now that’s definitely a unique combination and soothing, I’ll bet, on many levels.

      Let me know how that goes when you test it out! Again, thank you so much for sharing, Kathryn. Lovely to hear from you.

      Warmly, Annie

  3. Julie Fiandt says

    What an essential, well-written, and in-depth piece, Annie! Most posts, handouts, and resources on self-care are of the yoga and green juice variety you mention. Self-care is a personalized process about the very things you mention–addressing our body, mind, heart, and soul. I believe it’s so much more than encouraging one another to pick a hobby off of a generalized list. I’ll definitely be sharing this piece with the women I work with in both my roles: in my job as a sexual assault survivor advocate and in my passion project/blog supporting women in pursuing their creative projects (without tossing their wellbeing out the window!). Thanks for writing such a helpful piece.

    • Annie says

      Hi Julie,

      Thank you so much for your comment! I’m really glad you liked the article and I personally loved what you said: “it’s so much more than encouraging one another to pick a hobby off of a generalized list” — totally! The last thing most of us need is another task someone says we “should” do. Instead, most of us need to be supported and encouraged to tune into what we instinctively know or feel will be supportive – no matter what that looks like.

      I’m so glad you reached out and that the article might be helpful in your work. Thanks again!

      Warmly, Annie

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