Having things that help us cope at home is great – but what about when we leave the house? Many of us struggle with going outside. The world can be an overwhelming, sensory-nightmare, people-y sort of place. Assembling an ‘on the go’ coping kit allows us to have that little box, pouch or bag of safety that we can take with us wherever we go.
THE FORM OF OUR COPING KIT
Before we make our coping kit, we need to think about the form it might take. Some might like to make a literal kit – a washbag/make up bag or pencil case that goes in our main bag, a drawstring bag in the car, or a little box in our desk draw (top tip: BuddyBox boxes are often the perfect size!). Others will have a slightly-less literal kit, and keep things in every pocket, bag, and draw.
WHERE DO YOU GO?
When considering what to include in our kit, we need to think about the main places we go. We might regularly visit many different places. Alternatively, we might leave the house once or twice on a good week and only go to a couple of different locations.
Make a list of each regular place, and add to it whenever another place comes to mind.
WHAT DO YOU DO?
It’s important to consider what we do when out and about because some things will be appropriate for some environments and not others. If we can’t use something in a particular environment, then it’s time to get creative and think about something we could replace it with.
WHAT ARE YOUR CHALLENGES?
We all struggle with different things. Some find open spaces incredibly daunting, others feel claustrophobic in crowds.
Pick up the list of places and write down feelings associated with one. Think about what triggers those feelings. We might not know the trigger. We might need to chat to someone for them to help us work it out which could take quite a while, but figuring out why we struggle with certain things can help us assemble our coping kit to meet that challenge.
COPING WITH SENSORY INPUT
Are we someone who gets overwhelmed by noise, or do we quite like it? Do smells make us feel sick or are they comforting? Does tasting something give us a focus or add to our overwhelm?
Many of us will be slightly more sensitive to certain things when anxious, so it’s worth factoring that in, too.
As well as where we’re going, what we’re doing, and sensory input, it’s helpful to consider whether anything else influences our ability to cope with the outside world.
Does lack of sleep worsen our sensory sensitivities? Does wind make us feel sick and dizzy? Are we able to cope when walking our dog, but not when alone? Does heat worsen our anxiety? Does bundling up in layers during cold weather make us feel as though we can’t breathe?
Considering these things helps us to tailor our on-the-go coping kit to our individual needs.
Fidgets can be amazing when it comes to on-the-go coping.
There are so many different fidgets available, and most people will have some they like better than others. Some of those available include fidget cubes, tangles, twist and lock blocks, airdoh, 3D printed items, or fidget spinners.
Prices range a lot. Often, we can find a version of a fidget in pocket money sections of toy shops or even places like Etsy. Trying out a few different things, initially, can help us to figure out our preferences. Once we know those that help, we can pepper them everywhere. Pockets, glove box, desk, kitchen draw, bags… absolutely everywhere so that there’s always one available.
Many of us are chewers. Whether it’s our pen lid, fingernails, ice from a drink, sleeve, or something else, we’re often chewing.
If we want to stop chewing whatever it is we usually reach for, then we could try chewing gum or chewables. Chewables are essentially items designed specifically for chewing. Some, like pencil toppers, are more subtle than others. They will often come in different chew ‘strengths’ depending on how hard we chew. It might take a little trial and error to figure out the right type and strength for us.
Some of us find smells grounding and calming.
Rollerballs are great; they’re super-portable and come in lots of different scents, so we should be able to find one we like. They usually have quite a concentrated smell, and once the cap is on, they shouldn’t make everything around them smell, too. Sprays work similarly, but where we can restrict rollerballs to our pulse points, sprays will be more dispersed.
Little lavender bags (or similar if lavender isn’t our thing) are portable and can have an intense smell, which some people find helpful. Just be aware that where we can put a lid on a spray or rollerball, smelly pouches might make everything else in our kit smell, too.
Hot drinks can be comforting, not just for the warmth and taste, but also for the smell. We can’t pour a hot drink into our kit, but we can keep a stash of emergency calming tea bags or similar.
Some tastes comfort us, reminding us of calm, happy times. We might associate them with a place or person that feels safe. Sticking some sweets, chewing gum, or something else with a long shelf-life in our on-the-go coping kit means that in times of stress, we can whip them out and use the taste to ground ourselves.
We could also try lip balm. As well as often tasting of something, the sensation of putting it on can be soothing.
COPING WITH SOUND
Some of us relish silence. Others need noise.
Environmental noise, for those of us who are noise-sensitive, can be a massive, sometimes unnoticed, anxiety-raiser. Some of us find earplugs useful, but we don’t always want to remove all noise. Noise-cancelling headphones are brilliant because, if we don’t play anything through them, we can continue to have conversations while wearing them.
Loops and flares also aim to remove background noise and reduce noise sensitivity. They’re often subtler than headphones. They can take a bit of getting used to, so we might want to practice with them before we put them in our kit.
If we like to listen to things, then keeping some non-broken headphones in our kit is great, because it’s awful when we’re feeling anxious, reach for our headphones and they’ve broken. Making a playlist, or using an app like the ‘Calm‘ app can remove the decision-making element of listening to things.
COPING WITH LIGHT
If we’re hypersensitive to light, fluorescent lighting in shops and offices can be awfully painful. Keeping a pair of sunglasses in our coping kit can be a must. We might feel a little odd wearing sunglasses indoors, but sometimes anything is better than the buzz of fluorescent light.
We could consider coloured lenses. If we can afford it, an appointment with a behavioural optometrist can make a huge difference. They should be able to test which colours work for us, and may be able to offer other things which help the world seem less ‘busy’.
If that’s not affordable, we could try a general pair of coloured glasses or clip-on lenses. It might take some trial and error to find the most effective colour for us, but once we find it the difference it makes to our anxiety levels can be staggering.
Many of us self-soothe using blankets or fabric. As well as being aware of the clothes we wear, there are other textures we can bring in as part of our kit.
If we have a car, then keeping blankets in the car is great, because they’re always there for those wrap-up-needed times. We could keep one in our bag if our bag is big enough, too. Slipper socks are more portable than blankets. They’re an easy addition to an on-the-go coping kit; a convenient way to add some extra comfort.
If we’re someone who finds textures particularly soothing then adding one, or a few, squares of fabrics we like to our kit make them accessible on the go. When we need them, we can pop them in our pockets and use them to ground ourselves and self-soothe.
COPING KIT DISTRACTIONS
There are times when what we really need is to be distracted from the environment around us. As long as we’re safe, they can help us get through a tricky situations, such as sitting on a train. Distractions we could keep in our coping kit include card packs, books, and puzzle books, or other things to make and do.
FOOD AND DRINK
Anxiety is exhausting and can do funky things to our blood sugar levels. Some of us notice this more than others. Keeping some snacks in our kit can not only be a tool to pop in a pause and a moment to catch up with ourselves, but also help with any blood sugar issues we’re having.
If we have drinks we like, then we can’t pour them into our kit, but we can ensure they’re readily available. We could add some favourite tea bags to our kit. Squash (cordial) sometimes comes in little, portable, squeezy bottles. A bottle of water in the car or our bag never goes amiss, either.
Keeping a little money in our kit can help to ensure that we’re always able to buy a drink and/or food as needed, even if we’ve forgotten to top up our snack selection. It can also offer peace of mind, should anything go very wrong.
A spare battery pack for our phone is another useful practical kit component, especially if listening to apps or podcasts using our phone is one of our coping tools.
THOSE ABSTRACT THINGS
Some of our coping things are really “things”, they’re a bit more abstract.
We can’t add ‘deep breathing‘ to our kit, but what we can do, is add prompts. A few different cards with an emotion at the top, and coping ideas below can help at times when we can’t think. We might find it useful to have a list of numbers of people we can call. When anxious, we might struggle to remember what to do, so having lists of ‘what to do when…’ gives us something tangible to follow. Creating these prompts can prevent us from spiralling by giving us something to hold onto.
KIDS’ COPING KIT
It’s not just adults who struggle, kids can too.
Creating our coping kit alongside our child both helps to normalise it and means that we can share ideas – we will probably both think of things the other hasn’t thought of!
It’s important that our child always knows how to access their kit. Whether it’s hung on the back of a seat in the car, in a pencil case in their bag, or in a box by the front door, they need to have it readily available.
COPING IN AN EMERGENCY
We could have one for ourselves with steps we can follow and numbers we can call, but it might also be handy to have something that communicates our needs to someone else. A credit card-sized card which has our name, useful phone numbers, and needs, can help us to stay in control even if we’re in a position where we can’t communicate as effectively as we’d like.
Building our on-the-go kit takes time. It’s not a stagnant kit. It changes and grows with us as we change and grow. We can’t magically fix the difficulties we have when out and about (how wonderful that would be!), but we can do things that help us to cope.
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