Developing an Emotional First Aid Kit

Vintage photo of young woman relaxing with her dogIf you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.
-Woody Allen

No matter who you are, things will happen that throw you off-kilter. Life intrudes on inner peace with an uncanny regularity. It may be your boss, spouse, children, house, parents, finances, health, or even a freaky weather event, but life has its own trajectory, and no one can know what new challenge awaits.

Luckily, there are many ways to regain equilibrium. Trial and error, plumbing your depths to see what really works for you, and discerning the differences between various situations that trigger your sympathetic nervous system—your fight or flight reaction—are all very helpful in developing an emotional first aid kit.

When you find you have strayed from your center, allow the imbalance. Just notice what is going on emotionally, physically, and mentally. What are you telling yourself about this experience? Are you ready to regroup, or do you need a bit more time to explore what is happening? Sometimes, the hardest thing is allowing yourself to totter emotionally, to grieve or feel angry, overwhelmed, or exhausted. Whatever is happening, it won’t last.

Ten Tips For Emergency Emotional First Aid
Since it is easy to get thrown off-kilter when you are shocked or surprised by unwelcome news, you may want to try these techniques as first responses:

  1. Take slow, deep breaths, and allow a little extra time to exhale.
  2. Remind yourself that this, too, shall pass.
  3. Allow space for all of your feelings.
  4. Have faith in yourself. The truth is that you can handle more than you might believe at this particular moment. You can use prayer or meditation for added support and to access your belief in a greater power.
  5. Don’t take anything personally.
  6. Try to stick with your routine, even if you are feeling dazed or numb. Having a routine will anchor you.
  7. Eat, sleep, and get some fresh air.
  8. Picture your 6-year-old self, and lovingly embrace that child. Gently reassure the frightened little being inside.
  9. Connect with someone, such as a friend or family member, a therapist or neighbor, even a stranger on a local hot line.
  10. Understand that you are here for everything, good and bad. Visualize yourself as a river of experiences, and let life flow without judgment.

Reading this list takes only a few minutes, but actually working through each item builds resiliency and will help you keep going, one second at a time. Sometimes, just existing during a traumatic experience is the best you can do and remembering that as time passes, your perspective will change. For now, it is best to accept the present, do what you can, and choose to believe everything is happening for your highest good.

If or when you are ready to re-center, reach out to a trusted friend, relative, clergy person, or therapist. Speak honestly and openly. Being heard and understood is one of the most bonding, loving, and freeing experiences you can have, but you have to ask for help. If this has been hard for you in the past, break out of your old rut of being super-independent and pick up the phone.

If company doesn’t fit the bill, try some solitude. Silence can be soothing and afford you the opportunity to integrate what you have experienced. If that feels overwhelming, try a guided meditation. There are numerous free podcasts on iTunes, like Meditation Oasis, A Quiet Mind, or The Meditation Podcast. If you have the time, try a soothing Yoga Nidra practice—this is a guided practice of yogic sleep, where you are in the liminal space between waking and sleeping, and involves no knowledge of yoga postures. (My favorite is available free from iTunes through Elsie’s Yoga Podcast, episode #62.)

Take a bath with Epsom salts and lavender oil. The magnesium sulfate in the salts will quiet any muscle tension, and the essential oil—about six to eight drops—will calm your mind and act as a pain reliever.

Read something inspirational. Try some poetry, or escape with a novel. Reading is both relaxing and engaging. If audio books work better for you, check some out from the library and download them to your iTunes so you’ll have a ready supply.

Music really can soothe the savage breast, as the playwright William Congreve suggested in the late 17th century. Find something that works for you: it may be hard rock, or hemi-synch. Sanskrit chants can be remarkably helpful, as they bathe you in mantras designed to calm your nervous system. Chanting them yourself will bring even greater benefits, as making the sounds activates different parts of the mouth that correspond to different areas in your brain. The simplest one is om, a sound that is said to embody all sounds.

Moving your body takes the kinks out emotionally, too. Even if the last thing you feel like doing is dancing, yoga, or taking a walk, just do something for five minutes as an experiment. If you feel better, do another five minutes.

Allow nature to work its magic. Dr. Samuel Hahnemann, the father of homeopathic medicine, wrote that eating well, sleeping enough, and getting fresh air are essential to good health, mentally and physically. Don’t underestimate their value.

Rebalance with a favorite ritual, like making yourself a cup of tea and sipping it slowly.

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Nicole Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, LMHC, therapist in Buffalo, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 20 comments
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  • Chloe

    Chloe

    April 6th, 2012 at 11:33 AM

    My emotional first aid kit: good friends, good food, good conversation, and good wine ;)

  • Yvanna

    Yvanna

    April 6th, 2012 at 1:35 PM

    I have always felt that my friends and relationships with other people were going to be my emotional lifelines, and that has been proven to be true in my life time and again. There is no other substitute in life for your friends. These are the people who know how to make you laugh, who know how to help you cry, and know how to help you keep it all together when times get tough. You know that you would do the same for them too.

  • Nicole

    Nicole

    April 6th, 2012 at 3:06 PM

    Hello Chloe and Yvanna,
    Thank you for taking the time to comment.
    I wholeheartedly agree about friends being wonderful supports.
    And, chocolate. :-)
    When I was writing this, I was thinking of all the times friends may not be available, like 3:00 AM.
    In a crisis, self-soothing skills can be very helpful.
    Nicole

  • irvine

    irvine

    April 7th, 2012 at 2:28 AM

    after dad passed away,my older sister took me and our brother into her fold and took us to nepal wherein we spent several weeks with chants and just living the simple life.it was much needed because it really helped us see beyond the obvious and made us realize that no pain is permanent and that we can still connect with our departed father in our hearts.

  • Haley

    Haley

    April 7th, 2012 at 4:49 AM

    Personally, I need my alone time when I need some comfort. I know that friendships can help get you through anything, but I think about what NIcole responded here, and she is right. There are going to be times when you need soothing and it will not be ideal to get a friend involved. For me my savior has become my running. This is something that I can always do, no matter the time of day, if I just need to blow off a little steam, forget about something that has been harsh, or even to come up with some ideas of fixing something that has been bothering me. Hey, I know that this is not going to work for everyone but for me it gives me some space to stop and think, or sometimes not to focus on anything at all but that particualr run. So I guess my kit must include good socks and running shoes!

  • Nicole

    Nicole

    April 7th, 2012 at 7:40 AM

    Namaste Irvine,
    I am so sorry for your loss.
    Like you, I have found mantras very soothing.
    I think of Gandhi, on his death bed reciting the Guyatri mantra to glide him into the beyond.
    You are right, nothing is permanent. I also like to recite the Buddha’s Five Remembrances to help adjust my perspective when it’s out of kilter.
    Wishing you every goodness,
    Nicole

  • Nicole

    Nicole

    April 7th, 2012 at 7:45 AM

    Hi Haley,

    It’s all about finding support through many avenues; though, ultimately we reside within ourselves. That’s why I have deep gratitude for my daily yoga practice. It’s uncanny how centering it is.

    Of course, running also connects you to nature and the bigger picture.

    Hope you have a beautiful day,
    Nicole

  • joanni

    joanni

    April 9th, 2012 at 4:21 AM

    I like the suggestion #10. Life can be good and life can be bad. It is our responsibility to learn from it all. There are lessons to be learned in life from every experience that we have. It is better to embrace those learning experiences instead of only brooding over them.

  • tyler

    tyler

    April 9th, 2012 at 3:13 PM

    always nice to have that support system, that feeling of someone or something being there for you in grief and helping you to hold hands and walk out of the emotional slump.

    but being alone has none of it and that is why we should all try and have at least a few meaningful relationships and things in our life.it may be a friend or your connection with nature, but a support system can work wonders.

  • Lowery

    Lowery

    April 10th, 2012 at 4:51 PM

    Just when you think that you’ve got it all under control, that is when the unexpected always seems to show up in life. But I love the tips given here for handling all of this. Having a support system is integral to overcoming obstacles when life throws them your way. Sticking with your routine even when it does not feel good (exercise anyone?) can make you feel more grounded when life keeps you off balance. Living a healthy lifestyle by eating right and resting your body is vital. All of these things are so important. But learning to roll with the punches is probably the best advice of all. We need to be more fluid, more dlexible, and learn from these experiences. There is always something that we can find to learn from if we just open our eyes to that experience. It does not mean that it is always going to be something fun, but I guarantee that it will be something that we will be able to use later in life at some point.

  • Nicole

    Nicole

    April 10th, 2012 at 6:42 PM

    Hi Lowery,
    Your comment reminded me of something I read recently. It suggested that every time you turn on the tap you recite the following mantra:
    Just like this water, I go with the flow.
    It may sound wildly simplistic, but those are typically the phrases that soothe and rebalance us in a crisis.
    Nicole

  • Ron

    Ron

    December 11th, 2012 at 9:57 AM

    What is “center”?
    What does it mean to “find your center”? “to center”? or to “re-center”? If you are “centered”, or not, how would you know it?

  • Nicole

    Nicole

    December 12th, 2012 at 4:34 AM

    Hi Ron,
    Great question.
    I think finding your center means being in a peaceful place with some inner equilibrium where you sense your connection to all.
    Namaste,
    Nicole

  • Angie R.

    Angie R.

    October 19th, 2014 at 4:50 PM

    I pray reading this will help me with anxiety… iv stayed in solitude for years because of it..i wanna live again.and really enjoy life …sad in upstate ny…but i have learned to tell myself that itll pass and ill be ok

  • Mel

    Mel

    February 25th, 2015 at 7:11 AM

    I just watch tv

  • nicole

    nicole

    February 25th, 2015 at 3:16 PM

    In honor of National Eating Disorders Awareness week.

    Celebrate u! To b human is to be imperfect. If we r gentle with ourselves we are less judgmental. Be the loving voice in your mind.

    #projectLG #selfcare #urworthit #stigmafighter #selfinjuryawareness #bekind

  • Cassidy

    Cassidy

    February 26th, 2015 at 3:48 AM

    I am struggling to re centremyself at the moment and I am quite low. I am exhausted over eating and not motivated… (Highly unlike me) I feel like I’m wading through the mud….probably a combination of work, money, family and relationship worries have place me here. However I will definitely try these suggestions and hopefully be back on form very soon. I understand that it will pass which is the main thing all is not lost. :) x x

  • T

    T

    June 8th, 2017 at 7:24 AM

    Your blog is great!
    I’m in the process of making a kit right now while I write a blog entry and will definitely link your page, which I found accidently while looking for another article I had a partial copy of. Hahah…
    Keep sharing your truth. Cheers!

  • T

    T

    June 8th, 2017 at 7:26 AM

    Correction, your article is fabulous.

  • Nicole Urdang

    Nicole Urdang

    August 4th, 2017 at 1:48 PM

    Hi T,
    Thank you for your kind comment. I do actually have a blog called Holistic Divorce Counseling. Despite the name, it covers all issues, not just the cosmic hazing of divorce. Please feel free to check it out.

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