If you are a person who struggles with anxiety, overwhelming thoughts, and overwhelming emotions, and panic attacks, then you probably know there are many times when it feels like the mind has gone bye-bye and has taken logical, helpful thinking with it.
In moments of distress, regardless of what triggered them, it can feel like torture. It can feel like the whole world is falling apart, that nothing is safe, and it’s very possible that you might die. I can tell you from experience that while it may feel like you’re going to die, you probably won’t.
These feelings and thoughts can still be very paralyzing though. They can put me into a state of complete dissociation and it will be hours, maybe even days, before I feel “okay enough” to move again.
I have a very hard time thinking clearly and being able to cope, self-soothe, or distract, can be challenging. There are some days where I can use “Cope Ahead” from DBT to try and reduce the anxiety by preparing ahead of certain situations where my anxiety or a panic attack can be triggered.
Some days though, coping ahead isn’t as effective as I would like it to be, or I didn’t think the anxiety would be so bad so I didn’t cope ahead at all. And some days the anxiety or panic attack hits with no reason or warning at all.
In order to try and reduce my anxiety, no matter where I am, I have created a portable distress tolerance kit (or coping kit). It’s small enough I can carry it in my bag so I have it with me pretty much all of the time. So that at any given time I know where it is and am able to use it,
In fact, I have even created a second kit with most of the same items to put in the other bag I use, just in case I forget to take the first one when I switch using bags.
And if you’ve read my other posts here, you know that I have been creating a coping kit for at home. I got a wooden box and some paint from Michaels (an arts & crafts store) and painted it.
I highly recommend creating a coping kit or distress tolerance kit for yourself for when anxiety hits, and keeping it somewhere that you can easily get to it when needed, even carrying it with you for when anxiety hits while on the go.
Create several kits if you need them and keep them anywhere and everywhere you may need to use it. Create one for at home, in your car, at work, in your bag, and even at a family or friends place. If you trust them to tell them what it is and what it’s for, of course.
Creating yourself a kit is super easy and can be low-cost too. I created mine by going to the dollar store and altogether I spent less than $20. There are tons of options that can be used for a distress tolerance kit.
Starting with the pouch or container, which can be any size and basically anything that can hold your little toys or puzzles or whatever. I found my little red pouch (Pictured below) in the craft section of the dollar store. And the wooden boxes I gotr at Michaels. But really it can be anything – purse, pouch, Coin purse, pencil case, shoebox, tissue box, even a sealable sandwich bag if that’s all you have – can be used.
It all depends on how portable you need it to be and how many items you want to carry. If you keep a kit at home, find a pretty box or container you can use to hold your items. Be creative and check toy stores, dollar stores, clearance sections, housewares, crafts and stationary sections too.
As for the items to go into the kit, it is entirely up to you and your needs. Be creative and whenever you find something that helps you, no matter what it is, add it to the kit. If something isn’t working for you, then take it out.
Toy sections are an incredibly rich source for little toys and gadgets you can fidget or play with. Even the baby section can have a great selection of items that you can use to soothe or distract you when feeling anxious. Google ideas, too.
Here’ a list of items to help get you started. Just remember that this is for you so get anything that helps you.
– fidget toys
– puzzle blocks or Rubik’s cube
– silly putty, slime or Play-doh
– crossword or word search books
– keychain stuffed animals or keychain toys
– mini slinky
– arts and crafts items – look for tactile items like fuzzy balls, stones or rocks, etc
– stress ball
– pictures or a loved one or a pet
– gum or candy to chew on
– favourite book, comic book or magazine
– favourite toy or game
… this list is by no means complete, and pretty much anything that can help soothe or distract you can be used so keep your eyes open and look for whatever works for you
This is my distress tolerance kit, and what is included: – small drawstring pouch – mini slinky toy – two small pointy toys – squishy ball – silly putty – small soft mitten
This is the small drawstring pouch
This is the squishy ball (it’s rubber with water inside, and please ignore the fuzzy stuff that got stuck to it, it’s from the inside of the bag)
This is my mini slinky
These are my two pointy toys that I like to fidget with
This is my silly putty (store inside its egg to keep soft)
This is my mitten (it was, of course, a pair of baby mittens, I like to fidget with them because they are so soft)
This is a mini wooden puzzle. (I got this from a Toy Store called Masterminds. I like to fidget with this when I need something more challenging for my mind than just a pointy toy. But apparently, my skill level does not allow me to figure this stupid thing out so I don’t use it a lot.)
This is a mini Rubik’s cube
This is a mini Word Search book
I got all of these items, except for the wooden puzzle, at a dollar store. The wooden puzzle I got from a toy store called Masterminds. And like I said above, the whole kit, including the toy from the toy store, cost me about $20.
These are just some examples that you can use but whatever you find helps distract you and cope could be totally different. I recommend keeping the items small so you can carry them with you, if needed.
Sometimes when I’m going out and I’m not carrying a bag I’ll just take the silly putty with me so if I need to fidget I have it on me. Just remember whatever items you use are what will help you when you need it. It doesn’t matter if they don’t make sense or are not things that right off the bat seem like they will help.
If fidgeting with a pencil helps you, then carry a pencil. If you like the way a fluffy little toy feels and helps to soothe you, then get the toy. If fidgeting with a bottle cap helps, then keep a bottle cap on you. It’s you and your needs you’re looking after.
I also have a rock that I like to fidget with and helps me do observe and describe, so yes, I have a rock in my pocket too. Remember that whatever you decide to use, whether on their own, or collectively as a kit, should be accessible for when you need them. This means keeping them where you can find them and being able to use them because if you’re experiencing high anxiety or panic attack, you most likely won’t be thinking very clearly, so seeing and accessing the items should be easy and fast.
I add and take away items as needed too, so feel free to explore what helps you and rotate or replace items as you need it. You may be in a panic attack when you discover something that didn’t work, try and think to that moment and how you can have something else on hand to help you the next time.
I thought a word search book would work for me but one day it didn’t I preferred something I could just fidget with, and so I discovered the silly putty helped. Having a coping kit or distress tolerance kit has helped me on many occasions. I do still have anxiety and panic attacks, and a few times I forgot I had the stuff, so it’s not foolproof nor will it totally take the anxiety away. I wish. It does help though. A lot.
My anxiety has been reduced by having toys to fidget with, and I have avoided several panic attacks because of them too. Having several items can also help for days when you never know what can help. Sometimes I’m positive the slinky will help but it doesn’t, the toy helps, and other times the toy doesn’t help but the silly putty does. Sometimes just knowing I have stuff with me can help.
I highly recommend taking the time, as much as needed, and creating your own coping or distress tolerance (anxiety/panic attack) kit. And when you can, don’t leave home without it! Good luck!