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 tools to help keep us going.
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. While it was inspired by the pandemic, the vast majority of these resources are not specifically COVID-oriented.
This page is a living documented, 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
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
Public libraries sometimes offer access to free learning programs, so have a look to see what yours has to offer.
- Academic courses:
- Khan Academy free courses at high school-ish level
- Coursera and edX: courses on a variety of topics from multiple universities; some are free to take without a completion certificate.
- Future Learn has courses offered by universities on a wide variety of topics. Many short courses are available for free.
- Ivy League Courses from Brown, Columbia, Harvard, etc., available free
- OpenLearn offers a broad selection of free courses
- Alison has free courses on a number of topics, many of which are job skills-related.
- iTunesU is available on iOS and has a wide variety of courses.
- Skillshare and Udemy have courses in areas like business, technology, creative areas, and lifestyle. Most are paid, but some are free.
Brain training apps
Brain-training apps can challenge your mind but in the format of a game. Cognitive remediation is a specific form of brain training that’s shown benefits in chronic mental illness, and while there aren’t apps available for that, it’s still an indicator that exercising your brain is good for you. A few examples of available apps are:
Susan David, the author of Emotional Agility, talks about The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage.
Brené Brown on the power of vulnerability.
Reading can be a great way to learn new things and escape to different worlds.
- The MH@H book reviews index has a list of all the mental health books I’ve reviewed.
- If fiction is more your thing, Books and Bakes has lots of great book reviews.
- Goodreads is a great way to get social with your reading and find book recommendations.
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
- Bookbub: has a selection of books that are available free for a limited time offer
- Free-eBooks.net: members can access 5 free books a month
- Indie Book Lounge: books by indie authors
- Open Culture: 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
- Standard Ebooks: a collection of books in the public domain
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. For more, visit the post on Free Mental Health Workbooks.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- 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
- Integrated CBT patient workbook: this resource comes from Dartmouth University
- NHS inform: CBT-based self-help guides for anxiety, depression, and other topics
- Think CBT Workbook
Other forms of therapy
- ACT Mindfully: Russ Harris’s site has worksheets from all of his books on acceptance and commitment therapy
- 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
- GetSelfHelp: worksheets galore on a variety of topics
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook by Ken Lunn
The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Edmonton has put together a Winter Mental Health Guide.
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. There are more ideas here in the coping toolkit, and there are more in ways to share your mental health story.
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 on the MH@H Store.
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.
- Self-kindness when we make mistakes
- recognizing our shared humanity
- nonjudgmental mindful awareness
- 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.
- 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
- Building Self-Compassion Workbook (Centre for Clinical Intervention)
- PositivePsychology.com has a PDF pack with 3 self-compassion exercises.
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 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
Greater Good Magazine from Berkeley University has quizzes to check in on how you’re doing with the keys to wellbeing that they’ve identified.
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. Pinterest is a great place to look for gratitude prompts, and you can find my gratitude collection here.
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
Life can be complicated so sometimes it’s nice to slow things right down.
- get crafty, e.g. knit or crochet
- jigsaw puzzles
- puzzles like crosswords and sudoku
- visual art — paint by numbers makes a nice option
- board games
- Marie Kondo-style fold some laundry that’s hot and straight out of the dryer (trust me on this, her folding method is life-changing)
- do a bucket list for post-corona life — try it in collage form with the help of Adobe Spark or Dream It Alive
Actionsforhappiness.org publishes monthly calendars with positive action ideas for each day of the month. Below is a recent example.
The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has loads of ideas on how to spread kindness in your world.
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