What Is A Mental Health Toolbox (and what’s in mine)
I first became familiar with the concept of a “toolbox” when I started recovery. It’s something that’s just become second nature to me, but I realized that not everyone may have heard the term. And since not everyone is in recovery, it may make more sense to answer the question “what is a mental health toolbox?” since they’re essentially the same thing.
Your mental health toolbox is where you keep everything you need to take care of your mental health. It holds your tools to improving your day or taking more intensive steps to find relief, such as medication or therapy. Some days you may need more than one tool from your toolbox and some days it may only take one thing. You may not find complete relief, but you’ll at least go away feeling a little bit better. It all depends. The point is that you have a running list of tools that you can turn to when things feel off.
To give you some examples, here’s what is in my mental health toolbox (in no particular order):
Therapy: I know this isn’t accessible for everyone, but it’s something that really improved my sense of self and saved my marriage. I didn’t start therapy until I was five years into recovery, and before that, 12-step meetings really turned things around for me. If therapy isn’t an option for you, research free support groups or check out some of these more affordable therapy options.
Medication: I never thought that I would be someone who would need medication, but it really changed my life. I take Lexapro to manage my depression and anxiety and I continued taking it through both pregnancies. There is absolutely no shame in medication.
Music: I have a hard time tapping into feelings sometimes, so if I need to cry or work on processing something, I put on music that evokes those feelings. I will also put on music that cheers me up to help lift my mood if I feel like I’ve been down for too long.
Exercise: this has always been important to me, so it was a struggle when I had to cut back with this second pregnancy. Now that I am slowly getting back into things, I can already feel what a difference exercise makes in my mood and mental health. The type of exercise isn’t important; simply do whatever one makes you happy and you’ll continue to do.
Friends: having people to talk to about what’s going on is so important. You can’t carry the weight of everything on your own. These can be close friends, partners, family, or even people you’ve never met that share the same experience. After sharing about my accreta experience on Instagram, I had conversations from women all over who had gone through the same journey and it helped me feel less alone.
Nature: I LOVE being out in nature. I love the wood, the water, all of it. It’s an important way for me to recharge to get out in the fresh air and connect with nature.
Communication: this is so important, but something that has taken me a long time to learn how to do. When I have something going on, I have to communicate it to at least one other person so that they know what’s going on with me. I need to ask for what I need. I need to let people know where I am mentally and emotionally.
Writing: I’m a born writer. I feel pulled to do it and doing so helps me process a lot of emotions. It’s why I started this blog and why it’s still going almost 8 years later. Lately, I’ve felt compelled to work on shorter poetry pieces, so I’ve been working to write a little bit each day.
Good deeds: one thing that always helps me feel better is doing something for someone else. Before we moved, I had started volunteering at a couple organizations in Chicago. Given the pandemic, I haven’t been out as much here in North Carolina, but I did commit to donating blood now that they lifted the lifetime ban for IV drug use and also because I realized how important it was to have blood on hand when I went in to deliver Remy.
Gratitude list: if I’m having a hard time seeing the positive, I will sit down and write a gratitude list. It’s exactly what it sounds like – a list of things you are grateful for. It helps to put things in perspective for me.
Take a nap: taking a nap is always helpful for me if I’m feeling overwhelmed. It’s a way for my body to reset and recharge.
Everyone’s mental health toolbox looks different. Let me know some of the things you keep in yours in the comments!