The COVID-19 pandemic turned the world upside down, showing us that life is unpredictable (and you never know when there might be a run on toilet paper). What remains constant, though, is the importance of taking care of ourselves and having effective strategies to deal with whatever comes along. That’s where this coping toolkit comes in.
The toolkit includes a range of options, most of which are free, to help you find balance to stay steadier in the storm. While this collection was inspired by the pandemic, most of these resources are not specifically COVID-oriented.
This page is a living document and new resources will be added as I find them.
Sections of the Coping Toolkit
Peer support groups and other programs provide an opportunity to connect with others with similar experiences.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA): online support group
- Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA): online support groups
- Empower Survivors: peer support for survivors of childhood sexual abuse
- Letters to Strangers: anonymous letter-writing
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): support groups are offered at the state affiliate level
- NoStigmas offers ally training in peer support as well as an ally community
- Painted Brain: peer groups on Zoom held Mondays through Fridays
- SANE mental health charity support forum
There are lots of resources available to do your own work using concepts from evidence-based therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Here’s a selection of free resources that I’ve found.
These sites have large collections of assorted worksheets:
- GetSelfHelp: worksheets galore on a variety of topics
- PositivePsychology.com: info and worksheets based on a number of different therapy models, including CBT, DBT, and positive psychotherapy
- Psychology Tools: has a wide variety of worksheets, including CBT and DBT-based
- Therapist Aid: worksheets that are geared for therapists to use with their clients
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)
- ACT for Anxiety Disorders: Dr. John Forsyth’s website has handout packs to accompany his books on ACT for anxiety
- ACT Mindfully: Russ Harris’s site has worksheets from all of his books on ACT, including The Happiness Trap
- Association for Contextual Behavioral Science: ACT videos and audio lessons
- Mindfulness and Acceptance-Based Group Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder: a therapist manual and participant handouts
- Portland Psychotherapy Clinic: ACT exercises and audio files
- 6 ACT Conversations to build emotional intelligence, from RMIT University (audio)
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- Anger management workbook from Seasons Therapy
- Antidepressant Skills Workbook: a good intro for people who are new to CBT for depression, but might feel a little too basic if you are familiar with CBT
- Behavioural activation booklets from the NHS: this series of booklets focuses on the behavioural activation aspect of CBT for depression
- CBT group program manuals for Depression (there’s also one for Anxiety) from the University of Michigan: this manual is meant to be used as part of a group program, but it’s clearly laid out and has exercises you can work on on your own
- CBT+ Notebook: CBT handouts and worksheets
- CBT Skills Training Workbook: from the NHS, focused on low mood and anxiety
- Centre for Clinical Interventions: CBT-based workbooks and worksheets for a variety of mental health concerns
- Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression: workbooks for generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, OCD, panic disorder, social phobia, and specific phobias
- Flinders University self-guided workbooks: workbook topics include behavioural experiments for overcoming obstacles and behavioural activation for depression
- Integrated CBT patient workbook: this resource comes from Dartmouth University
- Managing Depression: A Self-Help Skills Resource for Women Living with Depression During Pregnancy, After Delivery, and Beyond
- Managing Your Worries: GAD workbook from the University of Exeter
- NHS inform: CBT-based self-help guides for anxiety, depression, and other topics
- Social Anxiety Group Participation Workbook from Hamilton Family Health Team: a patient manual for group therapy that’s laid out in a way that makes it pretty easy to use on your own
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT)
DBT is very skill-based, and while it’s used most often for borderline personality disorder, many of the skills can also be useful to people with other mental health issues.
- DBT handouts from psychologist Dr. Linda Olson
- DBT Peer Connections: DBT skills in a massively open online course format
- DBT Skills Application: a DBT self-help site with links to skills worksheets
- DBT Skills Handbook from Fulton State Hospital: available from a number of sources, including My Journey Through Madness
- Dealing with Distress: distress tolerance workbook
- Dialecticalbehaviortherapy.com: videos, written info, and worksheets
- Dr. Mark Purcell: DBT youth group manual (link goes straight to a .docx download)
- ilovedbt.wordpress.com: DBT skills micro-lessons, handouts, and worksheets
- Mind Body Soul Therapy: free online mini DBT intro course
- Regulator Workbook: DBT skills manual from Mission Australia
- Dealing with Psychosis Toolkit: this toolkit from Fraser Health Authority provides information about psychosis and skills that can help to manage it
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Workbook by Ken Lunn
- Queens University self-help workbooks on improving mood and self-care
- The Wellness Society has a guide on How to Beat the Winter Blues, a Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook, and lots of other free resources
There are more free mental health resources available from the MH@H Download Centre, including Feeling Suicidal? A Workbook for the COVID-19 Era.
- Self-kindness when we make mistakes
- Recognizing our shared humanity
- Nonjudgmental mindful awareness
You’re just as human as everybody else, just as prone to messing up, and just as deserving of compassion. For further reading, Dr. Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion is a great resource.
- A Quick Guide to Self-Compassion from Flinders University
- Being Well podcast: Rick Hanson (author of the book Resilient) speaks with Kristen Neff
- Building Self-Compassion Workbook (Centre for Clinical Intervention)
- Greater Good Magazine from UC Berkeley has video clips from a talk by Kristin Neff
- Just As I Am self-compassion guided journal
- PositivePsychology.com has a PDF pack with 3 self-compassion exercises
- Training Our Minds in, with and for Compassion: compassion-focused therapy info from Dr. Paul Gilbert
- Center for Mindful Self-Compassion: guided meditations from Kristin Neff and Chris Germer
- Chris Germer: a self-compassion researcher, has guided meditations on his site
- Headspace: has some free self-compassion meditations
- Kristin Neff‘s site has exercises and guided meditations
- The RAIN of self-compassion: guided meditation by Tara Brach
Self-Care & Self-Soothing
Self-care isn’t a luxury; it’s an essential part of maintaining your mental wellbeing. These resources can give you inspiration for your self-care:
- Positive Coping with Health Conditions: A Self-Care Workbook from the Consortium for Organizational Mental Health
- Self-care mega guide from Flinders University
- Self-care starter kit from Homewood Health
- Self-Care Starter Kit from the University of Buffalo School of Social Work
- Self-Care Toolkit: COVID-19 Edition from the University of Edinburgh
- TED Talks playlist: The importance of self-care
- The Foundry: 7 days of self-care
- The Working Mind COVID-19 self-care & resilience guide: has tips and worksheets
If you’re looking for a self-care subscription box, the UK charitable organization Blurt offers BuddyBoxes, available as a one-off or monthly subscription.
Grounding yourself in your senses can be helpful in difficult moments. During those difficult moments, thinking probably isn’t at its clearest, so having a pre-assembled self-soothing kit can make things much easier. You can also put together a more compact kit for use on the go.
You’ll want to include one or more things to engage each of your 5 senses.
- Sight: e.g. favourite photos or a book of nature or travel photos
- Sound: even if you can’t think of anything to physically put in your kit, you can write out the names of favourite songs or a playlist
- Taste: e.g. your favourite kind of tea, candies
- Smell: e.g. essential oils
- Touch: e.g. fuzzy socks, a cozy blanket
The stress bucket is a great model for conceptualizing how stress pours in and coping mechanisms allow it to pour out. Watch out for unhealthy coping mechanisms that will just siphon stress back up to the top of the bucket!
Your mental health will benefit the most if you can both reduce the stress going in and increase the stress going out through the use of coping skills. Treating mental illness can help to expand your bucket capacity.
Some stress management tools and other mental health tools:
- Calm Managing Stress Workbook
- Department of Veterans Affairs: Manage Stress Workbook
- Doing What Matters in Times of Stress: An Illustrated Guide from the World Health Organization
- HealthyChildren.org: My Personal Stress Plan for teens
- Kaiser Permanente: Finding Balance Workbook
- Mental Health Foundation: How to Manage and Reduce Stress
- The New York Times: How to Be Better at Stress
- TherapistAid stress management guide
- Therapy Tools from Mental Health @ Home: includes various thoughts to help with managing your mind
- University of Michigan Health: Stress Management: Relaxing Your Mind and Body
- YouthSmart: Building Your Awesome… Tips for Stress Management
Gratitude doesn’t make the bad stuff go away, but it’s a way to bring mindful awareness to the good stuff. Here are a few ideas on how to practice gratitude:
Art & Music
People experience greater reductions in anxiety when colouring complex geometric patterns, such as mandalas, compared to unstructured colouring (source: Art Therapy).
- Just Color
- Mindful Coloring Workbook from Between Sessions Resources
- Monday Mandala
- Super Coloring
Listening to music can benefit mental health (read more here about how music affects the brain), whether it’s something you do on your own or you work with a music therapist.
- Headspace: has some free options
- Insight Timer: free
- Simple Habit: has some free options
- Smiling Mind: free
The bigger picture
Particularly for those of us with mental illness, happiness is not always an available option to choose. However, you can still take actions that will facilitate greater overall happiness as a state of being rather than pursuing happiness as a fleeting emotion.
- Actionsforhappiness.org: identifies 10 keys to happier living (GREAT DREAM), has monthly calendars with action ideas for each day, and has a 10 Days of Happiness free 10-day online coaching program
- The Happiness Academy: identifies 12 pillars of joy and ideas for actions to go along with them
- Random Acts of Kindness Foundation: has loads of ideas for spreading kindness (and joy)
Contemplative practices are a wide collection of both inward and outward-facing practices that are about creating more space between what’s happening and your response. Find out more in this post on contemplative practices.
Stillness is one of the branches on the contemplative tree, and a lovely way to find stillness is watching episodes of Joy of Painting with Bob Ross, the mellowest painter with the most soothing voice you will ever find. There are lots of videos on the Youtube channel devoted to his work.
The Lighter Side
Life really sucks some of the time, but there’s still usually a lighter side to things. We’re not talking toxic positivity, and it doesn’t make the hard stuff go away, but it does ease the load for a little bit.
There’s a fabulous post on Rebelle Society about the Fuck-It Bucket, a new philosophy of life.
The fuck-it bucket is multi-purpose. You can:
- throw shit in so you don’t have to give it any more fucks
- have a 2-part bucket where you throw in things that aren’t worth any fucks and pull out things that are a much better use of your fucks
- fill your bucket with something fun like a rubber chicken or two, a roll of toilet paper, or some dead fish, and throw them, or imagine throwing them, at things you don’t want to give any more fucks about
Whether it’s silly animals, your favourite stand-up comedian, or clips from a tv show or movies, there are probably a few things that will make you laugh every time, even if you’re feeling lousy. Some of my faves are comedy by Trevor Noah or Russell Peters, The Heat with Melissa McCarthy and Sandra Bullock, and Seinfeld. I’m a big fan of “he took it out” from Seinfeld and “pivot” from Friends.
You can find some cute ugly animals and other lighter topics under the MH@H Just for Fun tag.