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What's a Toolbox?

I’m sure you’ve been inundated with all kinds of self-care advice during the COVID-19 pandemic. Self-care is a hot topic right now as many of us run our first marathon-the marathon of working and schooling from home, parenting, and finding our way amid the crisis and uncertainty. I’ve seen a lot of advice on the world wide web about how to take care of yourself during this unprecedented time. Under the overall hot topic of self-care, another buzz word is being repeated-toolbox or toolkit. What is a toolbox? What does it hold, if anything?

A toolbox can be both literal and figurative. As a therapist working with kids who have experienced some type of trauma, I have constructed literal toolboxes with kids. Kids decorate a box, typically a shoe box, to reflect their personality and we fill it with things they turn to in times of stress as a concrete reminder of the tools or coping skills they have learned in therapy. These tools are most commonly related to relaxation and grounding, techniques we use to re-center, reset, and reboot when feeling stressed out or overwhelmed. Things the toolbox are concrete reminders that they have what they need to take control of their emotions. Bubbles would often go in a child’s toolbox because they are a concrete tool the child can use to regulate their breathing-taking a deep breath in through their nose and out through their mouth to get the biggest bubble, or maybe a steady stream of small bubbles. A favorite stuffed animal that brings them comfort because it’s soft or holds a special memory that makes them feel safe. A picture or pictures of places that elicit positive memories or people in their support system. A coloring book and crayons or colored pencils to help them refocus their mind and energy without feeling the burden to create something spectacular that a blank piece of paper can sometimes elicit.

A toolbox might also contain things that help them ground themselves in the present moment rather than being in their head with thoughts that are overwhelming. Grounding techniques use the five senses-smell, taste, touch, hear, and sight. Our senses are often tied to our memories and feelings, so it’s important that they are in charge of what goes in their toolbox. Maybe they have an essential oil or candle they like to smell. A favorite candy to taste, Play-Doh or a stress ball to squeeze, a reminder of a favorite song they like to listen to, and a picture of a special person or place.

Your toolbox of coping skills may contain similar things that elicit positive feelings and thoughts. You may not have a literal box, but you know what will help you calm down and focus on the present. For some that might be a long walk, listening to a favorite podcast or song, gardening, cooking, yoga, reading…everyone is different, and some people need more active means of relaxation. What’s in your toolbox?

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