Trying to keep yourself calm on a bad day is one of the most universally relatable human experiences I can think of. We all have bad days. And no matter what kicks them off (stress and anxiety, conflict, etc.), how we treat ourselves in those moments can be the difference between relief and more suffering.
I had a bad day recently. I was feeling anxious about this holiday season because I knew I’d be spending time with someone I have 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 would rather avoid.
After talking through these thoughts with my therapist, 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! And the idea of a Bad Day Survival Kit was born.
Create a Bad Day Survival Kit to Stay Calm
The purpose of this kit is to help you feel good when you’re struggling and give you tools to help you come back home to yourself. It’s an actual box of stuff that you place somewhere in your home or car and open when you need a little TLC. So what goes in the box? The ideas below are just that: ideas. There’s no right or wrong way to build your kit, and you know yourself best!
1. A note to yourself
When we’re depressed or anxious, our negative talk tracks can quickly take over and run the show. So, if you could have a conversation with the future version of you who opens the kit, what would you say? What techniques work best for you to reduce stress? A few things to try to include:
- Remind yourself that you’ve been here before and you always find your way out.
- Your thoughts are valid and nothing to be ashamed of, but that doesn’t make them true.
- Encourage yourself not to resist what you’re feeling or beat yourself up, this is part of being human and you will be ok.
- 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. Whatever you write, it shouldn’t feel like a chore or mandate on an already stressful day—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 first step is often to find 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 can help.
- 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, your favorite candy, or even a few crackers in case your stomach feels rocky.
- Hear: a pair of earbuds with a reminder to turn on a playlist of binaural beats or other relaxing sounds.
- See: a photo of your favorite place on earth to relax, a small piece of art you love, or a note with instructions to search for “relaxing visuals” on YouTube.
When I use my survival kit to stay calm on a bad day, 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.
3. Items that bring mental, emotional or spiritual comfort
These are items that you can use to wrap yourself in a metaphorical hug to boost your mood until the feeling or situation passes:
- Cards or texts with favorite mantras or prayers.
- Photos of loved ones and favorite memories that bring you joy.
- Inspiring quotes from your favorite people.
- Journal and pen for writing down your anxious thoughts.
- Meditation pillow for a gentle nudge to tune into a guided track like my Pep Talk meditation. Even deep breathing can help.