Original article on pro.psychcentral.com.
As a therapist, I have always been a big fan of offering my clients “hands on” practical strategies that can help them self-soothe immediately in times of anger and emotional distress. I refer to these self-soothing boxes by names such as a Calming Box or Coping Skills Toolbox. Self-soothing boxes are made up of a variety of items to distract and soothe. For example, a Hershey Kiss or Hug can remind us to be kind to ourselves and others and give figuratively “Hugs and Kisses” in times of anger and emotional upheaval. It also tastes good and gives ourselves a much needed “Kiss” or Hug!”
Using Calming Boxes are an example of an emotional regulation strategy in Dialectical Behavior Therapy, addressing the need to develop skills for increasing distress tolerance. The Coping Skills Toolbox replaces the urge for angry interpersonal exchanges or even self-destructive behavior, such as substance abuse or self-harm.
To make up a Coping Skills Toolbox, you can take a shoebox or get a decorative box inexpensively at a dollar store or craft store. Using actual objects that serve to distract and self-soothe are great for both children and adults in times of distress. It is one thing to think about something, but another to provide an alternate activity or tangible soothing touchstone. Tangible objects help ground us. They are especially helpful in times of emotional upset to give immediate comfort and can serve as a distraction, as well as offering alternative activities. Each individual collects items in their individual boxes that are personally meaningful. Most items can be inexpensively found at the supermarket, dollar store, or around the house.
The following are some examples of items that could offer self- soothing and increase coping skills in times of distress.
- A stuffed animal to hug
- A Stress Ball to help relieve stress
- A bottle of bubbles to blow out frustration and “lighten up”
- A pencil to write yourself healthy reminders
- Joke books, Soduku or Crossword Puzzle books
- Scented candle
- Playing cards
- Notebook, journal or notecards to write out feelings
- Cards given to you from friends and family
- Calming oils to touch and smell
- Stress ball or small bouncing ball
- Book or file cards with Affirmations
- Small Play Dough – Good sensory outlet that you can mold and shape
- Yarn and needles for knitters
Self-Soothing boxes are especially fun to make in a group setting, as group participants can get ideas from fellow group members on what works for them to control their anger or impulsive tendencies in times of emotional distress. If you are leading a therapeutic or educational group, have a variety of objects on a table, and go over with the group how these items can help soothe them. This can be a fun brainstorming activity, as there are no right or wrong answers. Sharing ideas of what is soothing can be quite therapeutic in itself, and encourages flexible thinking. At the end of the project, have members share with the group what they chose to put in their boxes, and discuss how their items will be used in times of emotional distress.
For more ideas of how to use these “hands on” boxes for children as well as adults, click here for more details on how to assemble a Calming Box.