Emotional First Aid

Do you have a first aid kit? I’d bet you probably do. Why wouldn’t you? After all, we’ve all been taught from a young age to be prepared for potential accidents. Most of us have experienced first-hand the benefits of having quick access to things like gauze and bandages. Often times, that kit is the key to preventing minor injuries from turning into major ones.

So what do you do when your emergency is an emotional one?

If I asked whether you have a distress tolerance kit, chances are you’d not only say no, you’d be baffled as to what exactly a distress tolerance kit is. Sadly, this is because while most of us are taught as children to grab a bandage for a cut, many of us never really learn to calm ourselves in times of stress.

Similar to a first aid kit, a distress tolerance kit is something that can be easily accessed in an emergency. It can prevent minor issues from turning into major ones. But unlike a first aid kit, it treats emotional emergencies rather than physical injuries.

The idea of the distress tolerance kit is to give you quick access to aids for calming down your body and mind. It offers you tools that engage your senses in something soothing or distracting. When creating one for the first time, a good rule of thumb is to incorporate at least one item catering to each of your five senses.

A sample distress kit might include:

-A coloring book and pencil crayons

-Knitting needles and yarn

-Scented body lotion or scrub

– Hershey’s Kisses


-Play Doh

– Inspiring quotes printed onto cue cards

A distress tolerance kit can be tailored to your preferences. For example, if you love the smell of lavender and find it calms you down, having a lavender hand lotion might be a good addition. Or if you like Sudoku more than you enjoy coloring, you may have a Sudoku book in your kit rather than a coloring book. Or if you like both, you might include both. Many people add in their trusty stress ball. The nice thing about a distress tolerance kit is not only does it offer you choices, you can continue to build and add to it as you start to figure out what things work best to soothe you in times of stress.

Creating a kit can be a great family activity and an opportunity to teach your child to develop healthy habits for coping with their emotions. It can also be a fantastic ways for parents to calm themselves down when their kids are driving them crazy. You can have one at work and at home, allowing you to quickly cope after a spat with your partner or after your boss yells at you.

Some people may dismiss the idea of having a distress tolerance kit as something only for people with serious mental health issues or for kids. However, just like a first aid kit, a distress tolerance kit is great tool for anyone. After all, humans are emotional creatures and therefore we all inevitably experience moments of emotional overload or stress. Why not have something handy to help you out? After all, a healthy mind is just as important as having a healthy body.

Anna Coutts

Coutts Anna Feb 2015

About Anna

Anna is a youth and family therapist based out of Toronto, Ontario. She splits her time working at an accredited children’s mental health agency and running her online private practice, Coutts Online Counselling.


May 3, 2017

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