'How I maintain my mental wellbeing in lockdown'

This article was last updated 16 April 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic is a difficult and uncertain time for everyone. We can no longer take for granted some of the things we used to do to look after our physical and mental wellbeing, like meeting a group of friends or going to the cinema to shake off the blues.

Along with other elements of our routines, we might have had to shake up, adjust or rethink some of our self-care techniques and rituals as we adjust to self-isolation and social distancing.

One of the things Young Minds suggest as a helpful tool for difficult times is a ‘self-soothe box,’ which can help if you’re struggling with feelings of anxiety or panic. We spoke to Nikki, 23, who has been using her self-soothe box to manage her mental health for several years. She believes it’s an empowering tool that anyone can use to manage their self-care and show themselves some kindness during difficult times.

What is a self-soothe box?

It can be anything you like. You make it yourself. Mine is a shoebox-sized box, where I keep things that make me feel better when I’m feeling down.

I think of it as a little box of escape in a world of reality. It’s a little piece of heaven that I can immerse myself in for half an hour and usually afterwards I feel a bit better.

What do you put in the box?

I’ve got a lot of things in my box! The main thing is a book I made myself after I did a particular type of therapy. It’s an instruction manual on how to deal with different emotions like loneliness, boredom, anger etc. That’s something that helps me and I’ve used it to support other people in helping them create their own boxes.

You can write down things that have helped you with different emotions in the past and then use it to remind you how to deal with emotions as they arise.

I’ve also got a book of poetry by Maya Angelou. My favourite poem is ‘Still I rise.’ It means a lot to me – I’ve got it tattooed on my arm!

I’ve got some squishy things I can squeeze – like stress toys – and colouring pencils and colouring books, perfume, hand cream, chocolate. It’s important to think about the senses when you make a self-soothe box: something you can taste, touch, smell. They ground you and keep you in the present.

I’ve got some positive affirmation cards, which I look at to remind myself that I’m enough, that I’m strong, even when I’m not feeling that way.

Nikki keeps a box of Maya Angelou poems in her self-soothe box

I’ve also got a little pot in here that I made myself and inside it, I’ve got lots of folded up bits of paper with self-care ideas. If I’m feeling stressed, I pick out any piece of paper and it will give me ideas of what I can do, like watch some comedy, eat some chocolate, listen to some music.

I’ve also got stuff in here that people have made for me and I’ve got a load of letters that I’ve asked people to write for me. A few years ago I was in hospital for a couple of months and was really unwell. I asked people who visited me to write me letters and I’ve got all these beautiful letters that I can look at when I feel down.

Colouring can be soothing

When is a good time to make a self-soothe box?

It’s good to work on it when you’re feeling really good. You put things in there that can help you on the days that aren’t so good.

It’s like a gift to yourself – a gift you’re giving to yourself on a good day to help you when you’re on a bad day. It brings the things that make you happy a bit closer to your fingertips.

How does the self-soothe box help you?

It distracts you. It gives you a place to escape for a while. It soothes your senses. It gives you a break. It empowers you because you’ve been proactive in your self-care. It’s like a little friend in a box.

How are you using your self-soothe box at the moment?

I’ve been bored an awful lot during lockdown. I like to go out and keep busy. It’s one of the main ways I keep myself healthy and I find that with coronavirus stuff going on, I find that hard to do. The main thing to remember in difficult times is to cover the basics first: sleep, movement, water, medication if you’re on any. It’s easy to forget about the basics in times of crisis. Once you’ve done that, you can think about the extra self-care things.

So then I look at lists of things that have helped me before and things that can help me again. I’ve got over 100 ideas of ways to distract myself when I’m bored!

I also go back and reread the letters that confirm who I am and what I believe in so I can be stronger in myself.

“It’s important to think about the senses when you make a self-soothe box”

Who can use a self-soothe box?

In particular, people who experience anxiety and low mood, stress or distress, can be helped by a self-soothe box, but I think the box can help anyone. I think everyone should have a little box they can spend time with when they’re having a bad day – and we all have those.

For tips on looking after your wellbeing during social distancing visit the Mind and YoungMinds websites.

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