Why a coping toolkit, and why now? While the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, restrictions are easinge, and the world needs to collectively try to figure out what a new normal will look like.
One thing that the pandemic has shown us is that life isn’t predictable, and everything can change very quickly and in strange ways (like the run on toilet paper). What remains constant, though, is the importance of taking care of ourselves.
This coping toolkit includes a range of free options to help you take better care of yourself and find balance to help keep you steadier in the storm.
Sections of the coping toolkit
Exercise Your Brain
Learning new things gives you something purposeful to do, but it’s also the mental equivalent of physical exercise, helping your brain to build new neural connections. Neuroplasticity is a wonderful thing.
Take courses online
- Alison has free courses on a number of topics, many of which are job skills-related.
- Coursera offers courses on a variety of topics from multiple universities. Some are free to take without a completion certificate.
- edX offers courses from universities on a range of topics. There is a mix of paid content and content that’s free without a completion certificate.
- Future Learn has courses offered by universities on a wide variety of topics. Many short courses are available for free.
- Google Digital Garage has short courses on digital marketing
- iTunesU is available on iOS and has a wide variety of courses.
- Ivy League Courses from Brown, Columbia, Harvard, etc. are currently available free
- Khan Academy offers free courses at high school-ish level in the arts, sciences, and math.
- OpenLearn offers a broad selection of free courses.
- Skillshare has courses in business, technology, creative areas, and lifestyle. Most are paid, but some are free.
- Udemy is quite similar to Skillshare. Most courses are paid, but some are free.
Brain training apps
Brain-training apps can challenge your mind but in the format of a game. A few examples:
TED Talks are another great way to learn new things, and often be inspired at the same time. There are a couple here in the coping toolkit, plus I’ve posted TED Talk recommendations before on the topic of mental wellbeing, mental health & illness, suicide & depression, stigma, and trauma.
Here’s a favourite of mine to get you started – Susan David, the author of Emotional Agility, talks about The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage.
Another great TED Talk pick is Brené Brown’s talk on the power of vulnerability.
Get Your Read On
Reading can be a great way to learn new things and escape to different worlds.
- The book reviews index has a list of all the books I’ve reviewed here on Mental Health @ Home.
- If fiction is more your thing, Books and Bakes has lots of great book reviews.
- Goodreads is a good way to get social with your reading and find book suggestions.
Did you know that local public libraries often have ebooks that you can check out? The Libby App is connected with the Overdrive system used by most public libraries so you can access free ebooks and audiobooks.
Hoopla Digital has partnered with libraries in the U.S. and Canada to offer videos, music, audiobooks, and ebooks.
Other free book options
You can also find free ebooks on:
- Bookbub: has a selection of books available free for a limited time offer
- Free-eBooks.net: members can access five free books a month
- Indie Book Lounge: books by indie authors
- Open Culture: has a collection of classic fiction and nonfiction
- Open Library is part of the Internet Archive system
- Project Gutenberg: offers classics that are no longer under copyright restriction
- Scribd: all books are currently available free for your first 30 days.
Do a Little Self-Help
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.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Behavioural activation booklets (NHS South London and Maudsley): this series of booklets is focused on the behavioural activation aspect of CBT for depression
- CBT Group Program for Depression Adult Patient Manual (University of Michigan): This manual is intended 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. There’s also an anxiety group manual.
- CBT+ Notebook (Harborview Abuse & Trauma Center): CBT handouts and worksheets
- CBT Skills Training Workbook: this is from the NHS, and is focused on low mood and anxiety
- Centre for Clinical Interventions: this Australia-based organization has CBT-based workbooks and worksheets for a variety of mental health concerns
- Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression (CRUfAD): workbooks for generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, OCD, panic disorder, social phobia, and specific phobias
- Dr. Danny Gagnon (psychologist): CBT self-help resources
- Integrated CBT patient workbook: this resource comes from Dartmouth University
- Moodjuice: CBT-based self-help guides for anxiety, depression, obsessions and compulsions, panic PTSD, social phobia, and other topics
- Social Anxiety Group Participation Workbook (Hamilton Family Health Team): This is another 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 Peer Connections: DBT skills in a massively open online course format
- DBT Skills Application: a DBT self-help site with links to worksheets focused on various DBT skills
- ACT Mindfully: Russ Harris’s site has worksheets from all of his books on ACT. Like the name implies, ACT focuses on accepting emotions rather than avoiding/fighting them, and committing to actions that are consistent with our identified values. I found some of the worksheets on values clarification to be quite useful.
- GetSelfHelp: worksheets galore on a variety of topics
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Ken Lunn
- Oxford Clinical Psychology forms and worksheets: this site is designed for therapists and isn’t necessarily the most user-friendly to navigate through, but there are lots of resources here
- PositivePsychology.com: info and worksheets based on a number of different therapy models, including CBT and DBT
- Psychology Tools: has a wide variety of worksheets, including CBT and DBT-based
- Queens University self-help workbooks: workbooks on improving mood, managing anxiety, and self-care
- Therapist Aid: has a wide variety of worksheets that are geared for therapists to use with their clients
- ThinkCBT: has worksheets based on CBT, ACT, and Compassion-Focused Therapy, and includes resources for OCD
The MH@H Mental Health Websites & Apps page has some other suggestions you can check out.
Get Your Write On
Have you thought in the back of your head about maybe writing a book someday? That time is now! Too mentally scattered to write effectively? That’s okay. Do an outline. Just start a word processing file on your computer. Take some step that moves you from thinking about a book to working on a book. Need more info on become an author? I’ve written a Beginner’s Guide to Self-Publishing.
Have you thought about branching out with your writing, and maybe trying to write fiction or poetry? Try that out now!
Contribute mental health guest posts
Want to write about your mental health? Many of the major mental health-related websites publish readers’ personal stories. Even if now isn’t the time to submit a story, there’s no reason why you can’t prepare one to submit later. There are more ideas here in the coping toolkit, and there are more in ways to share your mental health story.
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Real Stories Blog: publishes posts that educate people about suicide and convey hope/healing/resilience
- Bring Change to Mind: share your personal story in writing or on video
- Buddy Project
- I am 1 in 4: provides prompts
- Mental Health Talk
- The Mighty
- Mind: tell your story in blog or vlog format
- NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
- OC87 Recovery Diaries
- Outrun the Stigma: provides prompts
- SANE: this UK-based mental health charity has monthly blogging themes
- Stigma Fighters
- Time to Change
Journalling can be very therapeutic. Here are a few resources to guide you. The journal prompt section of my Pinterest journaling board also contains a variety of different prompts that I’ve discovered.
The MH@H Store has a free how-to guide on creating a bullet journal to support mental health. My approach isn’t about artistry; the key is functionality.
Here are some free ways to promote mind and body wellness.
Greater Good Magazine from Berkeley University has quizzes to check in on how you’re doing with the keys to wellbeing they’ve identified.
The Wellness Society has a variety of free wellness resources, including worksheets, colouring sheets, a gratitude log, and tips for nourishing activities.
Gratitude doesn’t fix everything, but cultivating an attitude of awareness can be very helpful. You could do a daily journal entry in either a paper journal or an app (such as Gratitude: Personal Growth & Affirmations Journal).
You can also use prompts, such as the A to Z prompt where you identify something you’re grateful for starting with each letter of the alphabet. I’ve collected a variety of gratitude journal prompts on Pinterest, which you can find here: https://www.pinterest.ca/MHathome/mindfulness-gratitude/gratitude/
A paper in Art Therapy: Journal of the American Art Therapy Association found that people who coloured relatively complex geometric patterns, such as mandalas, experienced greater reductions in anxiety than people who did unstructured colouring.
There are also trauma recovery-oriented colouring sheets available from Surviving Childhood Trauma.
- Headspace: meditations in their Weathering the Storm collection are currently free, and Headspace Plus is currently free for people who are unemployed, health care workers, and educators
- Insight Timer: free
- Simple Habit: has a collection of free guided meditations related to the coronavirus pandemic
- Smiling Mind: free
- Core Power Yoga on Demand: free keeping up your practice classes
- Yoga Girl: offering a free 30-day community challenge
- Yoga with Adriene: free on Youtube
Actions For Happiness
Actionsforhappiness.org publishes monthly calendars with positive action ideas for each day of the month. Below is a recent example.
Self-compassion consists of:
- Self-kindness when we make mistakes
- recognizing our shared humanity
- nonjudgmental mindful awareness
- Building Self-Compassion Workbook (Centre for Clinical Intervention)
- PositivePsychology.com has a PDF pack with 3 self-compassion exercises.
- 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
- Being Well podcast: Rick Hanson (author of the book Resilient, which I’ve reviewed here) speaks with Kristen Neff
- Compassionate Mind Foundation: audio recordings by Dr. Paul Gilbert
- Greater Good Magazine from UC Berkeley had video clips from a talk by Kristin Neff
- The RAIN of self-compassion: a talk by Tara Brach is available as a video and as a podcast.
Self-Soothing & Self-Care
Grounding yourself in your senses can be helpful in getting through 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 that engages each of your senses:
- Sight: e.g. favourite photos, a book of nature photos, a guidebook of places you want to go
- Sound: even if you can’t think of anything you can physically put in your kit, you can write out the names of songs or a playlist that you think would be helpful in different kinds of challenging situations
- Taste: e.g. teabags of your favourite kind of tea, candies
- Smell: e.g. essential oils
- Touch: e.g. fuzzy socks, a cozy blanket
The International Self-Care Foundation has come up with a seven pillars framework for self-care to promote overall health, which includes:
- Knowledge & health literacy: accessing information in order to make informed health decisions
- Mental wellbeing, self-awareness, and agency
- Physical activity
- Healthy eating
- Risk avoidance: avoiding/limiting harmful substances, practicing safe sex, getting vaccines
- Good hygiene
- Rational use of products & services: this refers to products and services to prevent and treat health conditions
The description on the ISCF’s site for mental wellbeing was very much lacking, the framework still gives a good overview of what can fall under the umbrella of self-care.
These resources can give you inspiration for your self-care:
- Self-care starter kit from Homewood Health
- 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
I’ve also collected a lot of great self-care tips on my Pinterest self-care board.
Mindless tasks can be a great way to burn off some nervous energy. Semi-mindless tasks can keep your brain engaged in a positive way, without getting dragged off into uncomfortable territory. Here are a few ideas for some of both:
- Marie Kondo-ify your home, or just try her folding system, which is spectacular; her show Tidying Up With Marie Kondo is available on Netflix (although unfortunately not in Canada)
- if you have a Pinterest account, it’s a far less stressful place to hang out these days than other forms of social media
- speaking of Pinterest, create some graphics using Canva to go with some of your old blog posts
- get crafty, e.g. knit or crochet
- jigsaw puzzles
- puzzles like crosswords and sudoku
- backup your computer files and/or clear out unwanted files from your hard drive
Bucket List Planning
When we come out of this pandemic on the other side (which we will, eventually), what are you going to do with having your freedom back?
Want to make a collage to capture your ideas? Adobe Spark is a tool that can help with that. If you’re law of attraction inclined, you may like Dream It Alive. And of course, you can kick it old-school and do it on paper.
Where would you like to go and what would you like to do when the world is fully open for business again?
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