2020 has been the year that turned the world upside down. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown 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 help keep us going. That’s where this coping toolkit comes in.
This toolkit includes a range of options, many of which are free, to help you take better care of yourself and find balance to help keep you steadier in the storm. While it was inspired by the pandemic, the majority of these resources are not specifically COVID-oriented.
This page is a living document and will be updated regularly as I come across new resources.
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
- Empowering Survivors: peer support for survivors of childhood sexual abuse
- 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.
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: this includes a therapist manual and participant handouts
- Portland Psychotherapy Clinic: ACT exercises and audio files
- 6 ACT Conversations (audio) to build emotional intelligence from RMIT University
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Anger management workbook from Seasons Therapy
- Antidepressant Skills Workbook from CAMHA: 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 for Depression Adult Patient Manual 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. There’s also an anxiety group manual.
- 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
- Dealing with Distress: distress tolerance workbook
- 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
Large Collections of 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.
- Dealing with Psychosis Toolkit: This toolkit from Fraser Health Authority provides information about psychosis and skills that will be helpful in managing it.
- Mental Health Recovery Star: This is a way of measuring progress in 10 different areas of your life related to mental health.
- 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
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 how to become an author? I’ve written a Beginner’s Guide to Self-Publishing that will tell you everything you need to know.
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.
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 collection of prompts that I’ve discovered.
The Reflecting on Powerful Words guided journal matches amazing quotes from people like Maya Angelou and Winston Churchill with prompt questions that relate to each quote as well as beautiful images. It’s available free from the MH@H Store.
- Self-kindness when we make mistakes
- recognizing our shared humanity
- nonjudgmental mindful awareness
For more info, check out Dr. Kristin Neff’s book Self-Compassion.
- Being Well podcast: Rick Hanson (author of the book Resilient) 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.
- 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
Reading & Worksheets
- Building Self-Compassion Workbook (Centre for Clinical Intervention)
- 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
Self-Soothing & Self-Care
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 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 to physically put in your kit, you can write out the names of songs or a playlist that could help
- Taste: e.g. teabags of your favourite kind of tea, candies
- Smell: e.g. essential oils
- Touch: e.g. fuzzy socks, a cozy blanket
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:
- 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
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.
Gratitude doesn’t fix everything, but cultivating an attitude of awareness can be very helpful. If you’d like to find out about its various benefits, The Gratitude Project by Jeremy Adam Smith and colleagues of the Greater Good Science Center will answer your questions.
How to do it? There are many ways.
- daily journal entry in either a paper journal or an app (such as Gratitude: Personal Growth & Affirmations Journal).
- use prompts:
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.
- 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
Listening to music can benefit mental health (read more about how music affects the brain here), whether it’s something you do on your own or you work with a music therapist.
Particularly for those of us with mental illness, happiness is not always available to choose. However, you can still take actions that will at least facilitate happiness.
- Actionsforhappiness.org identifies 10 keys to happier living (GREAT DREAM), has monthly calendars with action ideas for each day, and a free 10-day online coaching program called 10 Days of Happiness
- The Happiness Academy identifies 12 pillars of joy along with ideas for associated actions
- The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has loads of ideas for spreading kindness
Find out more in this post on contemplative practices.
Life really sucks some of the time, but there’s still usually a lighter side to things. It doesn’t make the hard stuff go away, but it eases the load for a little bit.
The fuck-it bucket
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 either throw them, or imagine throwing them, at things you don’t want to give any more fucks about
Funny tv/movie clips
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.
Here are “he took it out” from Seinfeld and “pivot” from Friends.