Having a bad day is one of the most universally relatable human experiences I can think of. We all have them. And no matter what kicks them off (anxiety, stress, conflict, etc.), how we treat ourselves in those moments can be the difference between relief and more suffering.
I’ve recently started using a new tool when I’m facing difficult days or situations, and I’m excited to share it with you today! First, some background: I was a little anxious going into this past holiday season. I knew I’d be spending time with someone I might have some tension with, and my nagging thoughts about it were getting in the way of everything I had to be excited about!
I’m sure you can relate. As wonderful as the holidays and other big events can be, they can also bring us face-to-face with people, memories or conversations we might rather avoid.
I talked through those thoughts with my therapist, and she suggested I make a “break glass in case of emergency” plan. At first I wasn’t so sure, but then it clicked—we have plans for emergencies like fires and floods, why not have one for when our inner alarm bells are going off? Brilliant!
Here’s the plan we made…
Step one: STOP. As soon as I noticed my heart rate go up or the steam coming out of my ears, the plan went into action.
Step two: Change my environment—go into a different room or get some fresh air. Remove myself from the situation before it boils over and take a moment to recenter.
Step three: Take a few deep breaths and reset my behavior. Remind myself that the feeling would soon pass and the best thing I could do for myself would be to remain calm.
Honestly, the most powerful thing about the plan was just knowing it existed. I didn’t have to keep ruminating about all the “what if?” scenarios because no matter what, I had my plan. It was so helpful that it’s since become my go-to resource for dealing with bad days or situations of almost any kind.
Turning the Plan into a Survival Kit
If my three-step plan resonates with you, I hope you’ll try it out or create one like it. Now, let’s talk about how you can take it one step further by making a literal Bad Day Survival Kit!
When we think about how to calm anxiety, the most important thing to remember is how we feel when we’re in it. It’s all too easy to tell ourselves that next time we’re feeling low, we’ll get outside for a walk. But when the low hits, it might not be all that easy! And for the record, that doesn’t make you weak or hopeless. Quite the opposite—you’re strong and you love yourself enough to WANT to make a better plan for bad days. That’s exactly what a Bad Day Survival Kit is for.
And yes, I am talking about a physical kit that you keep in your home… like a first aid kit for your mind! But this one isn’t filled with bandages and antiseptic. Instead, it’s got everything you need to compassionately carry yourself through a bad day or challenging circumstances.
Wondering what goes inside the kit? Keep reading!
How to Calm Anxiety with a Bad Day Survival Kit
The sole purpose of this kit is to help you take care of yourself when you’re struggling and give you tools that help you come back home to yourself. The ideas below are just that—ideas. There’s no right or wrong way to build your kit, and you know yourself best!
If you get stuck, think about what you’d include in a kit for your best friend. How would you remind them it’s going to be ok when they’re not feeling their best? Here are some options to consider.
1. A note to yourself.
When we’re depressed or anxious, our negative talk tracks can quickly take over and run the show. Once that happens, it can be tough to channel a positive perspective. So, if you could have a conversation with the future version of you who opens the kit, what would you say?
Think about how to calm anxiety on the most basic level by talking yourself through the experience. Remind yourself that you’ve been here before and you always find your way out. Whatever thoughts you’re having are valid and nothing to be ashamed of, but that doesn’t make them true.
Gently encourage yourself not to resist what you’re feeling or beat yourself up, this is part of being human and you will be ok. And don’t forget to remind future you how much you love yourself, because that can be one of the toughest things to remember when you’re in a dark place.
Your note can take whatever form is most helpful to you. It could be a full-fledged love letter or some reassuring affirmations to repeat to yourself when you’re feeling low. You could make a self-care checklist like the plan I made with my therapist. Whatever you write, it shouldn’t feel like a chore or mandate to shift your mood—make it about acceptance, reassurance and self-love.
2. Items that provide physical comfort.
One of the most important things I’ve learned about how to calm anxiety is that the best first step is often physical rather than emotional comfort. That way, we can get our heads above water before tackling any sort of mental reassurance.
If you’re having trouble figuring out what physical comfort might mean for you, start with your five senses.
- Smell: soothing essential oils such as lavender or rose, your favorite stress relief candle or a special bath bomb
- Touch: a cozy sweatshirt to snuggle up in, a stress ball or desktop zen garden
- Taste: relaxing tea with herbs like peppermint, chamomile and valerian root
- Hear: a pair of earbuds with a reminder to turn on playlist of binaural beats or other relaxing sounds
- See: a photo of your favorite place on earth to relax, or a note with instructions to search for “relaxing visuals” on YouTube
When I use my survival kit, I usually go straight for one of these physical comfort items. Their tactile nature makes them easy to turn to, even when my thoughts are doing everything they can to keep me in a negative headspace. I think you’ll find the same to be true—just pick something up and the grounding process begins.
3. Items that bring you mental, emotional or spiritual comfort.
Once you get some physical comfort, you might be ready to care for yourself on a deeper level. Or, depending on your needs in the moment, you might gravitate towards these items first—whatever works! Just wrap yourself in a metaphorical hug until the feeling or situation passes. That could be a card with a favorite mantra or prayer, a photo of a loved one that brings you joy or a quote that inspires you.
One thing that helps me when I’m feeling the weight of grief, uncertainty or frustration is to write. Not writing to find a solution, but just to get my thoughts out of my head and onto paper. Writing down anxious thoughts can be a good reminder that they’re just thoughts, NOT necessarily reality. If you think that some unfiltered, free-form writing could help, put a notebook and pen in your survival kit.
I’ve written quite a bit about how to calm anxiety with meditation, so it probably won’t come as a surprise that it’s part of my kit! Just a few mindful minutes can lower your heart rate and help you find safety within yourself. Put a meditation pillow in your kit or include a gentle nudge to tune into a guided track like my Pep Talk meditation.