Creating a Distress Tolerance Kit

As anyone who struggles with anxiety, overwhelming thoughts, and overwhelming emotions, and panic attacks knows, there are many times when it feels like the mind has gone bye-bye and has taken logical, helpful thinking with it. In moments of distress, regardless of what triggered them, it can feel like torture. It can feel like the whole world is falling apart, that nothing is safe, and it’s very possible that you might die.

These feelings and thoughts can be paralyzing. I have a very hard time thinking clearly and being able to cope, self-soothe, or distract, can be challenging.

There are some days where I can use “Cope Ahead” from DBT to try and reduce the anxiety by preparing ahead of certain situations where my anxiety or a panic attack can be triggered. Some days though, coping ahead isn’t as effective as I would like it to be, or I didn’t think the anxiety would be so bad so I didn’t cope ahead at all. And some days the anxiety or panic attack hits with no reason or warning at all.

In order to try and reduce my anxiety, no matter where I am, I created a portable distress tolerance kit. It’s small enough I can carry it in my bag so I have it with me pretty much all of the time. At any given time I know where it is. In fact, I have even created a second kit with most of the same items to put in the other bag I use, just in case I forget to take the first one when I switch using bags.

I highly recommend creating a distress tolerance kit for yourself for when anxiety hits, and keeping it somewhere that you can easily get to it when needed, even carrying it with you for when anxiety hits while on the go. Create several kits if you need them and keep them any- and everywhere you may need to use it. Create one for at home, in your car, at work, in your bag, and even at a family or friends place. If you trust them to tell them what it is and what it’s for, of course.

Creating yourself a kit is super easy and can be low-cost too. I created mine by going to the dollar store and altogether I spent less than $20. There are tons of options that can be used for a distress tolerance kit.

Starting with the pouch, which can be any size and basically anything that can hold your little toys or puzzles or whatever. I found my little red pouch in the craft section of the dollar store. Really anything purse or pouch-like can be used. It all depends on how portable you need it to be and how many items you want to carry. You could use a little purse, a coin/change purse, a pencil case, even a sealable sandwich bag could work. If you keep a kit at home, find a pretty box or container you can use to hold your items. Be creative and check toy stores, dollar stores, clearance sections, housewares, crafts and stationary sections too.

As for the items to go into the kit, it is entirely up to you and your needs. Be creative and whenever you find something that helps you, no matter what it is, add it to the kit. Toy sections are an incredibly rich source for little toys and gadgets you can fidget or play with. Even the baby section can have a great selection of items that you can use to soothe or distract you when feeling anxious. Google ideas, too.

This is my distress tolerance kit, and what is included:
– small drawstring pouch
– mini slinky toy
– two small pointy toys
– squishy ball
– silly putty
– small soft mitten

This is the small drawstring pouch

This is the squishy ball (it’s rubber with water inside, and please ignore the fuzzy stuff that got stuck to it, it’s from the inside of the bag)

This is my mini slinky

These are my two pointy toys that I like to fidget with

This is my silly putty (store inside its egg to keep soft)

This is my mitten (it was, of course, a pair of baby mittens, I like to fidget with them because they are so soft)

This is a mini wooden puzzle. (I got this from a Toy Store called Masterminds. I like to fidget with this when I need something more challenging for my mind than just a pointy toy. But apparently, my skill level does not allow me to figure this stupid thing out so I don’t use it a lot.)

This is a mini Rubik’s cube

This is a mini Word Search book

I got all of these items, except for the wooden puzzle, at a dollar store. The wooden puzzle I got from a toy store called Masterminds. And like I said above, the whole kit, including the toy from the toy store, cost me about $20.

These are just some examples that you can use but whatever you find helps distract you and cope could be totally different. I recommend keeping the items small so you can carry them with you, if needed. Sometimes when I’m going out and I’m not carrying a bag I’ll just take the silly putty with me so if I need to fidget I have it on me.

Just remember whatever items you use are what will help you when you need it. It doesn’t matter if they don’t make sense or are not things that right off the bat seem like they will help. If fidgeting with a pencil helps you, then carry a pencil. If you like the way a fluffy little toy feels and helps to soothe you, then get the toy. If fidgeting with a bottle cap helps, then keep a bottle cap on you. It’s you and your needs you’re looking after.

I also have a rock that I like to fidget with and helps me do observe and describe, so yes, I have a rock in my pocket too.

Remember that whatever you decide to use, whether on their own, or collectively as a kit, should be accessible for when you need them. This means keeping them where you can find them and being able to use them because if you’re experiencing high anxiety or panic attack, you most likely won’t be thinking very clearly, so seeing and accessing the items should be easy and fast.

I add and take away items as needed too, so feel free to explore what helps you and rotate or replace items as you need it. You may be in a panic attack when you discover something that didn’t work, try and think to that moment and how you can have something else on hand to help you the next time. I thought a word search book would work for me but one day it didn’t I preferred something I could just fidget with, and so I discovered the silly putty helped.

Having a distress tolerance kit has helped me on many occasions. I do still have anxiety and panic attacks, and a few times I forgot I had the stuff, so it’s not foolproof nor will it totally take the anxiety away. I wish. It does help though. A lot. My anxiety has been reduced by having toys to fidget with, and I have avoided several panic attacks because of them too. Having several items can also help for days when your never know what can help. Sometimes I’m positive the slinky will help but it doesn’t, the toy helps, and other times the toy doesn’t help but the silly putty does.

Sometimes just knowing I have stuff with me can help.

I highly recommend taking the time, as much as needed, and creating your own distress tolerance (anxiety/panic attack) kit. And when you can, don’t leave home without it!

Good luck!

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Change: Those Who Do and Those Who Don’t

Why do I keep trying? Time after time, year after year, I keep trying. Why? What for? What am I really getting out of it? Anything? Change is hard. Really, really, really, super hard. It’s almost near impossible at times. And despite how hard it is to change, I still try. Why? This got me thinking about why I keep trying for something that is so hard and has no guarantee of success. It also got me thinking about why some people don’t change, or even try.

I can only speculate why others don’t change, or try. So speaking for myself, the simplest answer I can give as to why I keep trying to change myself is, I am not okay with the alternative.

The alternative, if I don’t make changes and everything stays the same, means I stay miserable and in pain and in some very dark places. It means having dark, disordered thoughts. It means having my emotions overwhelm me. It means having no energy and no motivation. It means feeling alone and terrified. It means feeling trapped and paralyzed. It means keeping toxic people in my life. It means hating myself. It means being completely closed off from everything. And it means sometimes wanting to take my own life.

And for me, that is not okay. Frankly, it’s unacceptable. I don’t want any part of that. It’s an awful place to be and an awful feeling to have. It’s barely an existence let alone a life, and I want more. I want better. I want to be okay. And unfortunately, the only way to get there is to change.

It’s not always a noble cause. Sometimes I try to change because I think it’s what I should do. Sometimes I try to change because I think it’s what others want. Sometimes I even try to change because I just don’t know what else to do. Mostly though, I do it for me, because like I said, the alternative, to me, is much, much worse than what goes into changing.

Change isn’t for everybody. Some people are so afraid of it that they don’t even consider it. It’s just too much. I can appreciate that fear. Change can mean losing your home, your family, your friends, and everything you’ve known. How can that not scare a person? We’re often blindsided by big changes that we have no control over, and they can be overwhelming and painful. Real change is super hard. Especially when it involves thoughts and behaviours that are so ingrained in us they feel as though they are permanent. It takes loads of time and a lot of effort to change.

Which leads me to why I think some people don’t change. Or try. They just live in their darkness and struggle trying to make it through the day. They live with their disordered thinking and false beliefs without trying to learn their truth. And I have to admit, this baffles me. Why would people want to live like this? Why would anyone want to stay like this? Why wouldn’t people want to change? Why would anyone want to stay in such a miserable, awful, painful place of mental illness? It doesn’t make sense to me.

And therein lies the first problem to this judgmental thinking. Trying to make sense of it. Trying to apply any logic to ourselves, our thoughts, our emotions, or our behaviours, especially when they are disordered and dysfunctional, can be a frustrating and fruitless endeavour, and it may or may not help. The second problem is, just because someone lives day-to-day just trying to make it through, doesn’t mean they want to live like this. And the last problem is, a lot of people do want to change, but it’s scary and hard to change, and that can definitely be enough to stay our hand.

The days when I find change is just as hard as you think it is, and efforts that I have made to change are playing hide and seek with me, I am reminded of why someone might not want to change. When I think of the resistance, and in some cases the avoidance, of wanting to change, I think of my mom. The queen of no change. As far as I’m concerned anyway.

She not only didn’t try to change, she never gave an inkling of indication that she ever wanted to. Here’s where a lot of my judgment comes in. Because I believe she had to know things weren’t right. She was smarter than she gave herself credit for, she had to feel that something wasn’t right. Why on earth would she want to stay in her mind as it is? Swarming with low self-esteem, horrific lies about her worth, and trauma that she never was able to process, and she chooses to stay there? Why?

These are all assumptions on my part. Only my mom knows what she knows. Maybe she did know she could change, maybe she didn’t. Maybe she was too afraid of it, or maybe she felt she didn’t deserve it. I can certainly relate to either of those beliefs.

In my moments of compassion, empathy and understanding I am able to realize that change is terrifying and change is hard and no matter what some might say, wanting to change is not enough. Efforts to change can go on for years and even then there is no guarantee that things will get better. Change can mean digging very deep into memories and emotions that can be extremely painful.

Digging deep can mean seeing things in a harsh perspective that we might not be ready for or want to see. There may be some truths that we don’t want to know. There may be some lies we that don’t want to challenge. Digging deep can change how we see people and question our relationship with them. Digging deep can even change how we see ourselves. And this can mean making changes to our life that scare us and we might not be ready for it because it may mean leaving someone or removing them from our life, and this can be very hard. It can even feel like we can’t. We may not even be sure if we want to. It’s a tough situation. And to everyone it’s personal.

Despite how awful and painful mental illness can be it’s familiar. And we take comfort in the familiar. We like routine even if the routine is hurting us. It’s just something we do. You can try to pick apart why but I don’t recommend it.

For some people change is just not in the cards. For some, they will choose willingly not to change. They just don’t, or won’t, want to go there. It’s just too scary. For some, they may want to change, badly, but the fear is just too great. For some, change is the only way, no matter how much it may hurt.

I try to remember that change isn’t for everybody and what someone else is willing to face is really up to them. For me I keep trying and hope like hell it happens. To be honest, I have come a long way from where I was, and some things have changed so it makes me want to keep trying and keep changing. It tells me that more change, and for the better, is possible.

I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever understand why some people don’t even try to make things better. I guess that’s not really my call. I can only take care of me and hope for the best even if it means making changes that hurt. And I will try to keep having patience and understanding for those who don’t, or won’t, and hope for the best for them as well. It’s really all I can do.

The Trend Known as Trauma

The word trauma seems to be tossed around a lot these days. Post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, being one of the leading reasons. And it seems like everywhere and everyone has PTSD or some other form of trauma. It can be overwhelming to hear about it and even harder to talk about it. Trauma is scary and can be so devastating to so many.

Unfortunately with widespread coverage there often comes a feeling of desensitization to the words and their meaning. The more you hear about trauma and PTSD, the more it seems to become this catch-all trend, and slowly people start to become complacent to what it means and what it does, and even feeling bored of hearing about it all the time.

But trauma is not some trend we can all forget about when the next thing comes along. Suffering trauma is serious and can be life-altering, even life-ending.

Trauma is typically associated with war and violence. And as we are now learning it affects our first-responders -firefighters, paramedics, and police- who so heroically run towards the disasters that the rest of us run away from. And the trauma that these dedicated, brave people fight, day-in and day-out, is nothing to be dismissed. They are witness to some unspeakable tragedies that we can’t even imagine. And the doctors and nurses who care for the victims of these tragedies, and so many others, are also heroes in everything they face and contend with, day-in and day-out. It is truly astounding what they endure.

The trauma that all of these professionals suffer is without question horrible and devastating. Theirs is a unique experience that the vast majority of us will never have. Whereas their traumas may include blood and guts, broken limbs and broken families, and life and death, they aren’t the only ones to suffer trauma.

One of the hardest things about trauma is that it can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. And what is a passing event for one, may become a trauma for another. It is totally subjective. Trauma can be a one-time event, or it can be repetitive exposure, or chronic to the point of becoming a part of your daily life, with the trauma occurring over and over and over again.

What’s important to remember is that trauma isn’t just about car accidents, war, and violence. It isn’t necessarily explosive or graphic. Trauma can be in someone’s words or behaviours as they speak down to you or insult you or intimidate you. It can be a threat or a near-miss. It can be in the illness that takes down you or your friend, or it can be alone in a quiet room as someone you love passes on. It can be with our families or friends, or it can be with total strangers. It can be something we saw coming or something we didn’t. It can be something that marks the world or it can be something that marks only us. And it can be something that can be seen or it can be something we will never see. Trauma can be so insidious that it isn’t until months or years later that you even are aware you have been traumatized.

Trauma doesn’t care if you’re young or old, what religion you follow, or where you work. It doesn’t care if you’ve had a good childhood or if you’ve never known your parents. It doesn’t care where you live or who your friends are. It doesn’t care if you’ve had other traumas or if this is your first. Trauma either happens or it doesn’t. Period. And it can be something big and loud, or it can be something small and quiet.

I get this can mean that trauma paints a very broad stroke, colouring almost everything, because it kind of does and that can be scary. No one wants to suffer trauma. It’s a devastating thing that can tear you apart. And as much as the trauma has ravaged your insides, it’s possible that it can be healed. And it starts with recognizing you’ve been traumatized in the first place.

For some, this first step may never be taken. It may just be too much. Everyone is different, and so is how they cope. For some, this step may be the only one they take. And for some, this may be the first step of many. It’s up to you how you proceed, or if you choose not to. Trauma is painful and talking about it can be just as painful. Be patient with yourself, whether you talk about it or not.

You don’t have to tell everyone, you just have to start with yourself, and then you can work your way out as needed. Talking about it is probably the biggest step, and most likely will be the one that will bring the most healing. It’s hard and painful and it is the only way to heal.

Keeping it to yourself will only make things worse. And if you don’t believe me, consider your own trauma that you suffer with, every day, sometimes all day, and even at night while you’re asleep. Whether you call it trauma or not. Whether you admit it out loud or not. Think of the flashbacks and difficult emotions that plague you. Think of the nightmares and dreams that haunt your sleep causing you to wake up terrified and convince you that you will never sleep soundly again. Think of the moments that fear grips you and it feels like you most certainly will have the life squeezed from your lungs. Think of the days you can’t stop thinking about it and how dark and scary all those swirling thoughts are. Think of the way your body reacts and freezes into positions so tight that your muscles ache. And then think of keeping all of that inside your one body and mind and how it is all being torn apart.

Talking to someone can help to relieve that pressure. It may not fix everything right away but it is a start. Most likely you might need to recruit some professional help, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with seeking help, from professionals and from loved ones. Whatever you need to do. It’s your life at stake and that is worth fighting for.

The only thing worse than suffering a trauma is suffering alone. Seek support and help. And if this one person can’t help you or won’t support you then keep looking. If this one doctor isn’t listening or that doctor doesn’t believe you then find another doctor. And don’t stop until you get what you need. There is support and help out there. And you deserve to get it.

You deserve to be healed. You deserve to have your traumas healed. No matter how dark and deep they are. No matter what. You don’t need any reason or permission. You are you and you deserve to be healed. Trauma can break you, and it often does, and healing can be hard and painful, and it is possible.

To all those who have endured trauma and to all those who will, I sincerely hope you find your way to healing.