Are you feeling anxious, stressed out or exhausted?
Do you wish you had something at your fingertips that could help you feel more calm and comforted?
If so, then you might want to consider creating a comfort box.
What is a comfort box?
It’s an emotional first aid kit. When emotional injuries occur, it helps to have a comfort kit available to decrease distress. The idea is to fill the comfort box with things that you can use when you’re struggling that will help you feel and stay safe.
You choose how you want to decorate your box and what you want to put in it. You know what works best for you.
How do you make a comfort box?
A comfort box usually is about the size of a shoe box. The ones we use with our patients at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s Harding Hospital are plain white, but a normal shoe box can work, too.
People are encouraged to personalize the outside of the box in a way that’s meaningful to them. This may include inspirational affirmations, meaningful quotes, pictures that provide peaceful comfort or colors that are especially pleasing. The outside of the box represents the best part of the person making it.
The items are collaged with ModPodge onto the box. This takes much time, and usually is done in a group setting where peer support is provided.
By taking time to do this project over a period of days, it mindfully creates an environment in which people focus on their best self. And because it’s done in a group, people often share their ideas with other group members, allowing others to meet their "best self."
What items go in a comfort box?
The inside of the box is then filled with personal comforts that improve emotional safety. It’s important to focus on the five senses -- sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing – and include items that help us use our senses when distressed. Such items help us experience feeling "grounded" when we’re distressed.
For sight, you might include family or pet pictures, nature pictures or letters that have been written to you. Other ideas include affirmations and positive quotes and greeting cards from others or yourself.
For taste, you might include dark chocolate, gum or tea bags.
For smell, you might include essential oils, scented lotion or candles.
For touch, you might include a stress ball, modeling clay or a soft piece of material.
For sound, you might include a CD, play list, bells or a sound machine.
Many people include sentimental items, markers, a sketch pad, an adult coloring book, a journal or a book of inspirational quotes.
How can a comfort box help with maintaining good mental health?
The comfort box is your "go to" when you’re upset.
The comfort box is "pro-active" care; it helps you develop a plan of comfort when calm, and doesn’t expect you to wait until you’re distressed to think of what to do.
A comfort box recognizes that distress is a part of life, and we’re best able to handle this through experiencing comfort, rather than punishment.
The outside of the box helps us reflect on what’s important to us. The inside of the box is a reminder that we can, and deserve, to soothe ourselves when distressed. This works much better than punishing our self with critical self-talk, or self-harm.
Once the box is finished, it can be a conversation starter when shown to loved ones. Some people who don’t initially think they’ll like creating a comfort box find it immensely satisfying.
Marybeth McDonald is a licensed psychiatric social worker at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Harding Hospital and is coordinator of the Core Programming Team.