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.
Table of Contents
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
- Beyond Blue: online forums for residents of Australia
- 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
- Mind Peer Support Directory (UK) and Side By Side online peer support community
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI): support groups are offered at the state affiliate level
- Painted Brain: peer groups on Zoom held Mondays through Fridays
- PeerTalk support groups (UK)
- Rethink Mental Illness (UK): search for peer support groups in your area
- ShareWell: a platform where you can join (or host) peer support sessions
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)
- ACT for Anxiety Disorders worksheets: 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.
- Mindfulness and Acceptance-Based Group Therapy for Social Anxiety Disorder: this includes a therapist manual and participant handouts
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- 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+ 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 Your Worries: GAD workbook from the University of Exeter
- NHS inform: CBT-based self-help guides for anxiety, depression, and other topics
- Think CBT Workbook
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 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
- Dealing with Distress: distress tolerance workbook
- ilovedbt.wordpress.com: DBT skills micro-lessons, handouts, and worksheets
- Open-Minded Thinking DBT workbook
- Between Sessions Resources:
- Living with Worry and Anxiety Amidst Global Uncertainty from Psychology Tools
- 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
- Tolerance for Uncertainty: A COVID-19 Workbook from Dr. Sachiko Nagasawa at Bay Psychology
- 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 from the Centre for Clinical Intervention
- Compassionate Self Help from GetSelfHelp
- 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
- Simple Steps to Self-Compassion from Dr. Russ Harris
- Training Our Minds in, with and for Compassion: compassion-focused therapy info from Dr. Paul Gilbert
- Understanding & Learning How to Be Self-Compassionate: A Workbook & Guide from First Psychology Scotland
- 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
- Mindful Path: free mindfulness and self-compassion meditations
- Self-compassion.org (Kristin Neff’s site) has exercises and guided meditations
- The RAIN of self-compassion: guided meditation by Tara Brach
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:
- Creating a Self-Care Toolbox from That Beautiful Brain
- Positive Coping with Health Conditions: A Self-Care Workbook from the Consortium for Organizational Mental Health
- Positively Present: ABCs of Self-Care
- 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
- Self-Love Rainbow self-care and self-love ebooks and worksheets
- TED Talks playlist: The importance of self-care
- That Beautiful Brain: self-care printables
- 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.
The University of New South Wales has a helpful stress bucket worksheet.
Some stress management tools and other mental health tools:
- Building Your Awesome… Tips for Stress Management (YouthSmart)
- Doing What Matters in Times of Stress: An Illustrated Guide from the World Health Organization
- Finding Balance Workbook (Kaiser Permanente)
- How to Be Better at Stress guide (The New York Times)
- How to Manage and Reduce Stress (Mental Health Foundation)
- Manage Stress Workbook (Department of Veterans Affairs)
- Managing Stress Workbook (Calm)
- My Personal Stress Plan for teens (HealthyChildren.org)
- Relaxation Skills for Anxiety (University of Michigan Medicine)
- Stress management guide (TherapistAid)
- Stress Management: Relaxing Your Mind and Body (University of Michigan Health)
- Therapy Tools from Mental Health @ Home: includes various thoughts to help with managing your mind
- You Really Need to Relax: Effective Methods
The UK’s Mental Health Foundation has put together a guide called Our Best Ever Mental Health Tips: Backed by Research.
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:
- daily journal entry, either on paper or using an app like Gratitude: Self-Care Journal
- use prompts, like the A to Z prompt: identify things you’re grateful for starting with each letter of the alphabet; Pinterest is a great source of prompts, and you’ll find my collection here
- Greater Good Magazine:
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:
- Just Color
- Kripalu Mandala Coloring Book
- Mindful Coloring Workbook from Between Sessions Resources
- Monday Mandala
- Positively Present Illustrated Inspiration colouring book
- Rec Therapy Today: Relaxing Patterns Coloring Book and Therapeutic Coloring Book
- Stay Well, Stay Inspired from the American Library Association
- Super Coloring
- That Beautiful Brain colouring sheets
- To Write Love On Her Arms colouring pages
- Workplace Strategies for Mental Health colouring pages
Printable paint by numbers templates:
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.
- 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)
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.
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 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: