What’s in your mental health toolbox?
I am no handyman, by any means. I literally used Taskrabbit to get someone to hang my shelves (it was a hard exterior wall, okay!). I have a pink toolkit somewhere that I haven’t used since college. We have a toolbox in my apartment now and we call it “Stanley.” Like, it’s not a toolbox. It’s Stanley. “Can you hand me Stanley?” We’re weird, I know this.
I can’t remember who first used the phrase “mental health toolbox” with me, but it was probably one of my therapists. Sometime around college, I heard this phrase, and my first thought was, “I don’t think my pink toolkit can help me with this one.” But then I got the lesson that would help me for years.
A mental health toolbox is your list of (or completely cluttered, never organized box) self care practices you go to when your mental health needs repairing. I don’t know if I like using the term “repairing” for mental health because it’s not broken. It just needs some extra TLC. But it helps with the analogy. Stick with me.
Think of a really bad day. For example, perhaps a bird shit on my hair part so that it’s on my scalp and not easy to clean in a Trader Joe’s bathroom on the go. Maybe I locked myself out of my apartment. Maybe I broke a shoe strap while walking and tripped during rush hour in midtown carrying multiple bags. Or maybe it’s just that my depression hits really hard and I’m homesick and tired and can’t go on. Think about all of THAT all in one day. By the way, these are all speculation. They DEFINITELY never happened to me. Nope, never. What are you talking about?
What do you do to to unwind or destress? Do you go straight home and go to sleep? Do you stress eat and do a line of Oreos (bad af, I know). Or maybe you take a bath and watch your favorite TV show, only to get interrupted by your roommate who said she didn’t have to pee but turns out she really did (sorry about that, Hannah).
Whatever it is, there are good tools and not-so-great tools. Take a minute or two to think about what your tools are.
Okay, great, I gave you 30 seconds. You may think you have nothing. But dig a little deeper. You do. Is it taking a nap? Petting your dog? Taking deep breaths and saying “I’m not going to kill this mofos” as your mantra? There you go. Now that you have a list, consider what is healthy and not healthy. I’m guessing 10 Oreos eaten in 10 minutes is not healthy (but impressive!).
Just so you have something to go off of, here is my list:
- Watching Vines
- Dancing to 2005-2010 music
- Dancing specifically to “My Neck, My Back” on repeat
- A cup of tea
- Snuggling Milo
- Watching a documentary
- Going to the movies
- Going on a walk around the block
- Getting up from my desk and walking around the office
- Going to the park and escaping the sounds of the city
- Deep breathing to get my heart rate down to at least 85 BPM
- Deep breathing to a mantra like “Just. Breathe.” Or “You are worthy of calm” or “Fuck. These. Bitches.” (I never said this site was decent for grannies, just so we are clear).
- Calling my mom
- Watching Law and Order: SVU
(NOTE: Please know, my list is NOT your list. You may hate the music I like or the SVU. I get it. I’m telling you now, I do not have the list of magical answers to cure your mental illness. I’m just providing my experiences so that you can create your own.)
Look, the list could go on. I won’t bore you. Notice I took off any negative habits (Okay, it’s me. I’m the one who eats Oreos like it’s a sick addiction) so that I can focus on and choose the ones that are good for me. It’s OKAY to slip up. It’s OKAY to forget your toolbox. Take it day by day, my friend.
Also notice that I didn’t count the medications I take every day for my depression and anxiety. I don’t count my medication because I take that every day, every morning, no matter what. That’s a part of you now —and for good reasons! A post on that coming soon!— so keep taking it. Please. Don’t stop taking it until your doctor tells you to. It’s still very important.
Back to you. Make your list. Keep it in your phone. Tuck it away in your desk drawer. When you feel like you can’t take the things life threw at you that day, be intentional and ask yourself what’s in your toolkit.
You don’t have to live in a dark cloud of depression and anxiety. I know you’re tired. I knowwww you have no energy. I’ve been there, too. But you have to take care of yourself. What can you do to put up a fight against the depression? Against the bad days where nothing goes right and you feel like you’re slipping again? You have to gain all the tools you can, all the skills you can, and attack this mother fucker (in a nice and gentle way for your soul, of course). Level up, bitches.
Let me ask again: what’s in your mental health toolbox?