If you face an anxiety disorder, experiencing bouts of panic can be all too familiar. Almost anything can be a trigger for anxiety attacks, from daily worries to disagreements with a family member to looming deadlines at school or work. Anxiety attacks plunge your mind and body into fight-or-flight mode, impairing your higher cognitive functions and disrupting your digestive system. You may feel unhinged, irrational, physically sick and incapable of finding solid ground to pull yourself out of this state. Once an anxiety attack begins, it can feel impossible to stop yourself from spiraling, but you are not powerless in moments of panic. This is where a crisis kit can be invaluable.
What Is a Mental Health Crisis Kit?
A crisis kit can be a collection of physical items, written reminders and easy activities that can keep you grounded amidst an anxiety attack. In the storm of anxiety, a crisis kit can be your anchor. It can slow the high-speed chase happening in your head and enable you to refocus your energy to reach a state of calm.
Your crisis kit can be as simple as a numbered list of actions on your smartphone, or a small backpack filled with useful objects that you can take everywhere. Each item can be either physically or mentally soothing, and together, all of the contents can enable you to slowly climb out of a bottomless pit of panic and toward a place of peace.
How to Create a Mental Health Crisis Kit
It’s up to you to determine the contents of your crisis kit, whether it’s a digital list or a physical collection of items. To create your own kit, first think about the ways in which you currently cope with your anxiety. Do you stop eating when your anxiety sets in? Do you bite your nails when you can’t calm down? Do you think negatively about yourself or have suicidal thoughts? Do you tend to self-harm? Cut or burn your skin? Hit your head intentionally? Recognizing the various ways in which you react to anxiety can help you create an effective, personalized crisis kit tailored to your specific needs.
If you are currently having suicidal thoughts or are considering hurting yourself or others, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. This hotline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and representatives can help you understand and overcome suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
Some useful items, actions and reminders for your crisis kit can include:
- Taking 10 deep breaths: When your mind is wracked with anxiety, your body suffers, too. To slow hyperventilation, shaking, and nervous twitching, focus on inhaling and exhaling. Breathing is always something you can control in moments where you feel helpless. Refocusing your attention on your breath will help slow your racing mind and calm your body.
- Drinking a calorie-rich drink: For some people, anxiety can cause a loss of appetite and digestive issues like diarrhea. If you find yourself unable to eat during a mental health crisis, don’t forgo food altogether as your body needs nourishment. If you can’t bring yourself to eat, try drinking a calorie-rich protein shake or smoothie. You can stock up on packs of these bottles for your home, and take individual shakes or smoothies with you to potentially high-stress environments like work or a family gathering.
- Writing in a notebook: Bottling up your thoughts and feelings, regardless of their negative or positive nature, can be toxic. In a mental health crisis, try writing down all the thoughts that are swirling around in your head. This will give your brain and hands a purposeful activity to do, and help you process difficult feelings through expressing them on paper. You can also bring this notebook with you to individual counseling sessions with a therapist to discuss your anxiety in depth.
- Calling loved ones: List the telephone numbers of people who you can reach out to at any time of the day or night and call them if you need to. Sometimes just hearing the voice of someone you love can be soothing in moments of panic, and friends or family members who can listen to your struggles are a huge blessing in mental health crises.
- Fidgeting with a pliable object: Anxiety can often cause nervous or restless hand movements like nail-biting, so it’s important to have something for your hands to fiddle with when anxiety attacks. This can be almost anything from a simple object to an activity, and options can include playing cards, coloring books, a knitting project, stretchy toys, moldable clay, fidget cubes and more. Having an object or two on-hand is especially important for people who struggle with self-harming tendencies like cutting or burning their skin.
- Reading a letter from yourself: Anxiety can make you feel like a different person. In a mental health crisis, you may struggle to remember that you’re more than your mental illness. When you feel mentally stable, write a letter to yourself to read when you’re panicking. Write down your best qualities and the ways in which you excel at what you’re passionate about, and list everything you love about yourself. Your own affirmations can be anchors in times of crisis, and remind you that your worth isn’t tied to your anxiety.
- Wrapping yourself in a weighted blanket: While not entirely portable, a weighted blanket can help you relax almost instantly if you experience a panic or anxiety attack while at home. According to Psychology Today, “…these blankets work by providing input to the deep pressure touch receptors throughout the body. Like a firm hug, weighted blankets help us feel secure, grounded and safe.”
- Looking at a funny video or photo: Laughter lowers the levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in your brain, so find something to smile about during an anxiety attack to help yourself calm down. Compile a playlist of videos that always make you laugh or make an album of hilarious photos to keep on-hand at all times.
- Remembering what you’re grateful for: Counting blessings can be a useful tactic in escaping anxiety. When you turn your attention away from your stress and onto the people, places and memories that you’re grateful for, your brain can find a place of calm amidst an anxiety attack.
- Asking someone how they’re doing: Chances are, you’re not alone in your mental health struggles. When you reach out to a friend or family member who may be facing a similar issue, you actively shift your focus away from your own anxiety and channel your mental and emotional energy into helping someone else. Not only does an honest conversation about mental illness help you manage anxiety, but it can foster a lasting bond between yourself and a loved one and encourage others to speak up about their struggles with anxiety.
Toeing the Line: Anti-Anxiety Medications and Your Crisis Kit
If you’re actively experiencing a panic attack, anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan or Valium can offer quick relief, but they shouldn’t be a mainstay in your crisis kit. If you have a prescription for benzodiazepines like these, take the pills as directed, but leave them out of your crisis kit. Storing a supply of “extra” medications for times of panic can make it easy to misuse these highly addictive drugs without realizing it. In instances of severe anxiety, you may take more pills than necessary, and if this turns into a habit, you can become addicted to the medication.
What to Leave Out of Your Crisis Kit
Two types of items that don’t deserve a space in your crisis kit? Any type of alcohol and illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine and meth. These substances aren’t shoulders to lean on and are far more harmful than helpful. Alcohol and illicit drugs might seem to offer instantaneous relief from anxiety, but this feeling is only temporary. The more you drink, or the more often you use dangerous drugs, the higher your chances of developing a substance use disorder.
Concerned About Your Drug or Alcohol Use?
If you’ve turned to drugs or alcohol in moments of crisis and find yourself unable to stop using these substances, you’re not alone. People who understand the fear you may be facing are only a telephone call away. Representatives at The Recovery Village are waiting to take your call and can answer your questions about addiction and guide you toward effective addiction treatment options. Calling is toll-free, obligation-free, and everything you discuss will be completely confidential. If you’re ready to stop using drugs or alcohol, call The Recovery Village today. You deserve to find life beyond addiction.