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Mental Health Coping Toolkit

Mental health coping toolkit

This page began as the COVID-19/Mental Health Coping Toolkit, and it was created to pull together resources to help people cope during a really difficult time. Pandemic restrictions have eased, but taking care of ourselves remains as important as ever.

The toolkit includes a range of options, most of which are free, to support your mental health and help you find balance. This page will be updated regularly as I find new resources.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a resource portal called How Right Now with tips on managing difficult emotions. There are more free mental health resources available on the MH@H Resources page, including Feeling Suicidal? A Workbook for the COVID-19 Era.

Connect with peer support - image of a human figure supporting others

Peer Support

Peer support groups and other programs provide an opportunity to connect with others with similar experiences.

Therapy workbooks

Therapy-Based 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. There are even more workbook links in the post Free Mental Health Workbooks.

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)

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

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.

Other Resources

Bring self-compassion - image of a heart hugging itself

Self-Compassion

Self-compassion involves:

  • 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.

The mindful RAIN acronym: recognize, allow, investigate kindly, non-identification

Meditations

Self-care and self-soothing - images of women with arms crossed across chest

Self-Care and Self-Soothing

Self-care isn’t a luxury; it’s an essential part of maintaining your mental wellbeing (you can read more about that in this blog post on self-care). These resources can give you inspiration for your self-care:

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.

Self-Soothing

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.

Create a 5-senses self-soothing box: sight, taste, touch, sound, smell
  • 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
Managing stress: signs pointing to stress and more stress

Managing Stress

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.

The University of New South Wales has a helpful stress bucket worksheet.

The stress bucket model, with stress coming in the top of the bucket and taps releasing it from the bottom

Some stress management tools and other mental health tools:

Coping Statements

Wellness practices - decorative image of a yoga pose in the shape of a tree

Promote Wellness

The UK’s Mental Health Foundation has put together a guide called Our Best Ever Mental Health Tips: Backed by Research.

Cultivate Gratitude

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 & Colouring

People experience greater reductions in anxiety when colouring complex geometric patterns, such as mandalas, compared to unstructured colouring (source: Art Therapy). These sites offer free colouring pages or colouring books:

Printable paint by numbers templates:

To explore more art-related options, check out 100 Art Therapy Exercises, or read about my own experience doing paint by numbers.

Music

Listening to music can benefit mental health, whether it’s something you do on your own or you work with a music therapist. You can find out more in the post How Music Affects the Brain and Mood.

Meditation Apps

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.

GREAT DREAM: Giving, Relating, Exercising, Awareness, Trying out, Direction, Resilience, Emotions, Acceptance, Meaning
Action for Happiness

Spreading kindness isn’t just good for others; it’s good for you too. According to the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, these are some of the benefits:

  • releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which also lowers blood pressure
  • boosts energy
  • stimulates the brain’s reward centre
  • produces endorphins, which decrease pain
  • decreases levels to the stress hormone cortisol
  • decreased anxiety and depression
  • promotes happiness

The Science of Happiness has created a video called Train Your Brain to Be Kinder featuring some awfully cute kids.

Look on the lighter side - graphic of dog dressed up as a bee

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 looking for the lighter side doesn’t make the hard stuff go away, but it does ease the load for a little bit.

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.

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: What would you like to throw in/out of yours? - blue bucket filled with dead fish

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

Fun with language

I laughed a lot while putting together these posts, and I hope they’ll make you laugh too:

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