Assembling Your Coping Toolkit

(August 2, 2021)

Let’s start with what the coping toolkit is:

Therapists and other mental health professionals often talk about the “toolkit” or “toolbox”.  The purpose of this coping toolkit is to help with anxiety or depression symptoms. This is a wonderful metaphor if you know what it means and how to use it appropriately. 

A coping toolkit is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a collection of the coping skills, people, places, things, and ideas that help you to cope when symptoms of mental illness become overwhelming. Your tool kit is unique to you, and can be physical, mental, or some combination of the two. It depends on what works best for you. It can include ideas of where to go and what to do when you are experiencing overwhelming or distressing symptoms, it can include things like medication, it can even include a safety plan, if you ever experience self-harming behaviors or suicidal ideation or attempts. 

So, let’s assemble!

What physical things are helpful to have on hand when you are feeling overwhelmed? 

  1. Fidget toys are a great thing to use if you tend to dissociate or feel disconnected from your body. You can buy fidget toys at most major retailers, both brick and mortar, and online. Toy stores are also a fantastic place to find creative fidget toys. 
  2. Other printouts are also great if you prefer a physical toolbox, you can even put them all in a binder that can be easily accessible. This might include grounding exercises (the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 is one of our favorites- see resources at the bottom of this post), phone numbers of people who are helpful, or even articles that you find calming. A list of people who are helpful in challenging moments is another great thing to include. 
  3. Safety plans- this can include crisis numbers, coping skills, and how to keep yourself safe if you are in crisis. 
  4. A journal is a great thing to have as part of your tool kit. Journaling is a fantastic coping skill.
  5. Headphones- many people find listening to music, podcasts, audiobooks, or mindfulness apps to be very helpful in coping with mental health symptoms. Knowing where your headphones are can help a lot if you tend to overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious.
  6. Medications- Yet another tool in your tool kit are prescribed medications. Some psychotropic medications are to be taken as needed, and some are to be taken daily. Make sure to ask your doctor how you are supposed to be taking your medication before you leave the appointment, and that you are taking them appropriately. Know where as-needed medications are in case of emergency. Reminders on your phone or weekly medication boxes can be helpful to ascertain that you are taking your medications as prescribed.
  7. Your phone- This can help you access appropriate people (friends, family, mental health providers, or medical providers) if you need help coping. Make sure you have their numbers either stored or written down. 

What virtual or mental coping tools do you want to include?

Here are some examples:

  1. Mindfulness exercises. This can be as simple as counting all the colors you see or describing an object. Therapists are a great resource to help you find what mindfulness exercises work well for you. 
  2. Knowing things that help you calm down- this can be whatever you want it to be. Exercise helps many people with both anxiety and depression. Eating regular meals and getting enough sleep are also essential to managing mental health. It’s also important to know what might help in the moment, such as a warm bath, a walk around the block, a cup of tea, or a distraction like a book or movie.
  3. Cognitive restructuring or reframing- remembering exercises you may have talked about in therapy, challenging negative cognitive distortions, or mantras that you have created for yourself.
  4. A plan for social situations. If you tend to feel anxious in social situations, plan for how you will get there and get home, how long you will be there, people to whom you feel comfortable talking, and even a time limit for how long you want to stay. All these things can make social anxiety more tolerable. 

The coolest thing about your coping tool kit is that it is completely unique to each person.

Therapists often will suggest coping skills that are more universally effective, but the most important thing is to find things that work for you. Most of us probably have them and don’t even realize it! Sometimes, a coping skill feels deceptively simple. We encourage you to try it anyway. You might be surprised at how well it works!

As always, if you are feeling as though you need more help than your coping kit can provide, feeling like you are in crisis, or are feeling suicidal or having urges to harm other people, call 911, call the crisis line at 217-359-4141, text Home to 741741, or proceed to your nearest emergency room. 

If you are interested in therapy, email us or give us a call today at 217-203-2008!