A slightly different post this week. I have noticed various self care boxes on the market, these are boxes with varying contents people can use when they are stressed, anxious or triggered. Whilst they seem like a wonderful idea, in the best Blue Peter tradition, I started wondering, “Surely you can do that at home?”
What is self care, and does it matter?
Self care may sound a bit new age to some, and self indulgent to others, but it is in fact as old as the hills, and vital. When Virginia Woolf talked of a need for “a room of one’s own” she was partly addressing the need for self care. Audre Lorde, writer and feminist said:
Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation
Self care means recognising you matter, that your needs, wants and emotions matter, and responding to them. At its most basic it involves ensuring we eat, drink, brush our teeth, get enough sleep. These can all be difficult at different times, if someone is depressed for example. When things are going well we can sometimes forget the need for self care, leading to burn out, because we ignored the warning signs to pause and look after ourselves.
People sometimes worry that self care is selfish, that to be a “good” person means putting others first. This attitude often comes from low self esteem, or a low self worth. If you struggle with putting you first, the life jacket analogy helps. When you get the safety briefing on a plane they tell you to see to your own oxygen and lifejacket before helping others. This is because if you are unable to breath, you won’t be able to help others. It may help you set aside time and space for self care if you view it this way. Or as this wonderful quote puts it;
So, self care, whether you do it so you can help others, or simply because you recognise it matters because you matter, should be part of everyones lives. What form self care takes can be very personal, another reason making your own box might work a lot better than buying one “off the shelf”. Different things help different people, and in a wonderful virtuous spiral even thinking about what will help when you are anxious, depressed, stressed or triggered is an act of self care!
Consider things that, relax you, distract you, make you smile, remind you of good times, encourage and uplift you.
Here’s one I made earlier.
So, to the practical side, first, of course, you need a box. You could simply cover a shoe box with some nice paper, or hunt through second hand shops, charity shops and the like for something that catches your eye. The very act of spending money on yourself can be hugely validating, especially is you have low self esteem.
I have decided to have two boxes, one for home (the gold covered shoe box) and a smaller one I can put in my suitcase when attending conferences and training events. It cost me the grand total of 50p at a charity shop.
What to include?
When I mentioned self care boxes on twitter people had some wonderful ideas of what could be included. Many thanks to @CarringtonDawn and @CCullingworth for their many ideas and suggestions. This list is not exhaustive, nor will everyone have the same things which help. One of the great things about making your own self care box is it means you have to think about things which make you feel good, or better, its literally an act of self care to make the box!
- Photos of people, places, pets which make you feel loved, safe, wanted
- A notebook and pen, writing can be incredibly therapeutic. (Claire suggested a notebook with a cover which made you smile, a great idea)
- A stamp with a positive message or pitcure. (such as this)
- A familiar book, many people find young adult or even children’s fiction very useful, for others escapist sci fi or fantasy novels are ideal
- Art materials, anything from a few felt tips to oil paints, depending on what medium you prefer. The many colouring books and magazines on the market now are also something you might include..
- Silk, velvet or satin cloth, humans are tactile, touching something can be very comforting (especially helpful if you are on the autistic spectrum)
- Ear plugs and Eye Masks (its OK to want to switch off, and again these can be especially helpful if you are on the spectrum)
- Pre written permission slips, if you are handy at design you could even print them off on the computer, saying things you struggle to allow yourself to do; for example, its OK to to cry, to have a nap, to leave the ironing, to have a microwave meal for tea.
- Personalised cue cards. Sometimes we need help reminding ourselves of things we know in the good times, that flashbacks pass, that X always triggers us, that speaking with Y always makes us sad. A cue card will simply contain an emotion free statement which reminds us of facts around our emotional life, for example:
Speaking with Auntie Ethel always makes me feel sad. Its OK to feel sad when I remember Uncle Bertie, I miss him.
This may sound incredibly obvious, or even patronising, but one of the problems people face when emotions are overwhelming is remembering what triggered the emotion, and how to navigate what they are feeling.
- Comfort food (eg chocolate) Now I am well aware that many people try to break the habit of comfort eating, and for others food itself is triggering, however because of the status of certain foods as treats it means it can be a boost just to have them. If you dont want to choose chocolate, think of healthier alternatives, for me it would be pistachios. Obviously with perishable food items you would need to be aware of best before dates and replace regularly.
- Knitting, crocheting or sewing. Many people have found that when they are absorbed in creative crafts their mood lifts, and they have the benefit of having made something at the end.
- Play dough (there is a make your own recipie here) To get creative, or to let anger out as you smash, roll and smoosh.
- A list of activities you enjoy, written when you feel well. Don’t limit this to things that are weather or finance dependent. Yes, going for a walk can be great, but not if its pouring with rain. Think about things like watching a film, baking, clearing out cupboards (it can be incredibly therapeutic) reading favourite blogs.
- A list of people you can contact, with their contact details. This is especially helpful if you struggle with suicidal ideation. Just knowing there are people you can reach out to can make a huge difference. Some people might want to include helplines here, such as The Samartians
- Pamper Products. What pampering means will of course vary from person to person. For one person a bubble bath is a wonderful indulgence, for another its triggering. Here are my pamper products of choice;
Of course not everyone will want pink toe nails, consider what you find pampering, focusing on the idea of it being physical, tactile, a treat and achievable.
- Scented candles, incense, or perfume or aftershave, smell is an incredible sense, one of our most primal and powerful, smells which make us feel good, or remind us of good times can be very useful.
- Positive affirmations. Write a list of things you are good at, and keep it in the box to read when you are wondering exactly what you are any good at!
- Parents, carers, and others might like to add a few things which remind them of the children in their lives, a picture a niece drew or someone’s first school report.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, it’s more a starter pack, ideas you can use an explore to make your very own, very personal box, which will be all the more effective for being designed for, and by, you.
Triggers and distractions.
I have already mentioned that what might be wonderful self care for one person will be triggering for another. There are no rights or wrongs about this, and should never be any shame. Some people may object that a lot of the suggestions here could be classified as distractions, there is a school of thought that somehow being in pain is character building. It isnt. Whilst addressing pain within the therapeutic space, or in other controlled and boundaried circumstances can be incredibly healing, being in pain is not something anyone has to endure. Distraction is not only useful, it can be life saving.
It is also worth pointing out, that whilst I talk a lot here of ideas for when you are feeling low or struggling, self care should be built into all of our routines. It’s why I have designed a little box for when I am away from home. It’s not that I know I will need it, but because I believe taking time for myself is important, a sign that I value myself, on the best days as well as the worst.
I hope people find these ideas useful, and would love to hear your tips and suggestions, or see pictures of your self care boxes.