If you have a scrape or pain, Band Aids and aspirin have you covered. But what if your pain is emotional? What if you feel emotionally triggered and all the deep breathing in the world isn’t cutting it? What if you actually have an urge to cut?
Working with emotions isn’t always easy and it requires a balancing act. It’s part heavy lifting—turning towards pain at times in order to understand and heal it—and part learning coping skills to help you regulate your emotions when they feel a little overwhelming. One of my favorite tips for coping with emotional overwhelm—or whenever you feel like your emotional energy is low and in need of a pick-me-up—is making what I call an emotional alignment bag.
So, what’s emotional alignment and what goes into an emotional alignment bag?
What I call emotional alignment is when you are more emotionally centered and less emotionally resistant. It’s when you acknowledge your emotions and give yourself what you need. When you’re emotionally aligned, things tend to flow more easily because you aren’t blocking your emotions—you’re soothing them. That’s how emotional alignment helps you stay aligned with your goals: rather than being afraid that difficult emotions are sabotaging your goals, you recognize that they are temporary and manageable.
The type of items you might put in an emotional alignment bag can help either soothe your emotions or shift them so that you don’t react from a triggered state. Remember, just because you feel something, it doesn’t mean you have to do something.
The only requirements for an emotional alignment bag are that the items are either healthy distractions or emotionally soothing. It also helps if they actually fit in the bag (if you are going to take the bag with you somewhere).
Here are 10 items you might want to include in your bag:
1. Worry Stone or Crystal – Many people find it soothing to hold and rub a crystal or worry stone. I’m a big fan of using crystals, especially if they have meaning for you. While many crystal books will tell you what a crystal is supposed to be for, it’s important that you use your own judgment and pick a crystal that you actually find calming. If you’re not sure where to start, rose quartz is worth exploring. It has a gentle pink hue and symbolizes compassion and unconditional love. See which crystal feels right for you. If you want to clear the crystal’s energy, simply run some water over it once in a while.
2. Tea bags – Not only is the ritual of making tea often soothing, some teas such as chamomile can have a calming effect on your body. Research from Yale University and the University of Colorado also show that holding warm beverages can even increase warm feelings toward others. If your current stress is interpersonal, it might be a good idea to start with a nice warm cup of tea.
3. Novels – Sometimes it’s good to see the world from someone else’s perspective for a while. Good novels can engage your imagination in a way that tv just can’t. Keep a good read handy when you need a healthy escape.
4. Self-help books – When using self-help books for self-soothing purposes, try to focus on the self-love kind rather than the self-improvement variety. Books that soothe help you to see the greatness you already have within. They also remind you to be kinder to yourself rather than make you question whether you’re actualized enough.
5. Magazines – There’s a reason that dentists’ offices are never behind on their magazine subscriptions. Whether they are intellectually stimulating like The New Yorker or salacious like the latest tabloid, most magazines can provide a fun and engaging respite from stress.
6. Chocolate – Studies show that chocolate can enhance your mood. A little goes a long way so put a small amount in your bag and savor each bite.
7. Tart candy or gum – Engaging the senses is a great way to ground yourself and to shift your emotional state. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (or DBT) is a very effective form of therapy that helps with emotion regulation. Many of the self-soothing strategies used in DBT involve the senses. Sour candy, for example, can provide an especially strong sensory experience and give you a sudden shift. Some people even like to suck on a lemon when they need an intense shift.
8. Putty – Using your hands is a great way to relieve tension and calm your brain. Just head over to your local toy store and you’ll find a variety of options. Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty is especially fun and comes in different sized containers. Squishies are scented—and arguably adorable—rubberized foam toys that you can squeeze. You can alternate between squeezing the toy and smelling the warm vanilla scent in order to engage more senses.
9. Rose spray or scented lotion – Using your sense of smell can help shift your mood, especially when it’s a scent that you associate with positive memories or one that has reported benefits. Keep a small bottle of your favorite lotion or lavender or rose spray handy. There are so many to choose from. My personal favorite aromatherapy mist is a Rose Petal Rosewater by Heritage Store. Whenever you need a shift, just rub the lotion on your hands or spritzing some mist and take a few deep breaths.
10. Cold Eye Mask – Ok, so technically you won’t be able to keep an eye mask cold in your alignment bag, but you might want to keep it handy in your freezer for an intense mood shift. Along with other ice methods, this strategy is often employed in DBT for people who have a hard time tolerating intense emotions and have a history of engaging in self-injurious behavior such as cutting or hitting. If that sounds like you, keep an eye mask in your freezer and use it on your face when you need to calm down. A bag of ice in your freezer can also be used in a different way for tough moments. When you feel an urge to cut, hold the bag firmly in your hands. This will give you an intense sensation that can short-circuit the physiological process of a negative emotion. Splashing cold water on your face can also help cool you off and shift your emotional state. A word of caution: Using ice will slow your heart rate down so check with your doctor first to see if this might be an issue for you.
From books to candy, your emotional alignment bag is now covered. Whether you keep it at home or with you at all times, it’s fully stocked and ready to go.
The next time that you need a quick emotional shift, you know that you can reach into your bag and find a little healthy comfort. While it’s just an emotional Band Aid, Band Aids are an important part of being able to soothe yourself and regulate your emotions.
I’d love to hear from you. Which one is your favorite? Is there something that works for you that didn’t make the list?