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Emergency Self-Soothing Kit And Crisis Survival Strategies

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My former T gave me this little handout in a packet once a few years ago. I recently found it again and thought that it might help some of you out as well. I'm sorry that it's so long. I split the information between a few posts to hopefully make it a bit easier to read. None of this material belongs to me.

Make an Emergency Self-Soothing Kit

You can't always predict when an emotional emergency will strike, but you know that it will happen inevitably, so make preparations now. All of the distractions mentioned above [will include in next post] help to get thoughts going somewhere other than deeper into rumination, and they get the body and brain forcibly reoriented.

Consider making a sort of "emergency kit" that includes items you have found effective to get through a crisis without making it worse. Place these items in a basket, box, or bag around your house (or room) where you can access these things easily. (It's important to be able to find the kit easily, because it's hard to think calmly when you're exceptionally upset or in great turmoil.)

Here's an example of what you might place in such a ki:

  • Lilac or almond body lotion
  • Incense
  • Classical CD
  • A few chocolates
  • Rabbit's foot or worry stone
  • A magazine or Sudoku puzzle book

After creating your soothing kit, making some other changes around your home (or room) also can help you be prepared. This especially is important if you struggle with self-harm behaviors, such as cutting. You will want to strongly grab your body's and brain's attention so you might emphasize strong physical sensations.

Think about any items you have available to you, or that you can afford to put together. Some of the ideas may not suit you, but don't disregard them. They came from people going through much of the same thing as you. Be willing to try something new. Remember, distress tolerance isn't about solving life's deepest and most profound problems; it's about surviving intense emotional crises without making things worse.

Put a few ice cubes in sandwich bags. When you begin to feel very disregulated, go to the freezer, grab a bag of ice, and squeeze tightly. Sandwich bags will keep dripping to a minimum, but if you don't care about having some water on the floor, try holding the ice without the baggies.

Keep lemon concentrate or lemon juice available in the fridge. Lick, drink, or directly taste these without diluting them. They can be quite potent in flavor, and be strong disractions. You can also cut up some fresh lemon, lime, or grapefruit wedges and put them in plastic containers in the fridge. When necessary, get them out, bite down on them, and feel those taste buds come to life.

Keep frozen cranberries, blueberries, or strawberries on hand. Get them out and chew slowly, feeling the cold and noticing as the tart or sweet flavors explode in your mouth. Keep orange popsicles handy and use them the same way.

These are all examples of things others have tried - whatever items you select, make sure you know where to find them. Place them where they make sense to you to go and look. You take a bubble bath in the bathroom; so don't put the bubble bath soap in the garage.

Source: Spradlin, S. E. (2003). Don't let your emotions run your life: How dialectical behavior therapy can put you in control. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

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“Setting Aside” Thoughts

Use your imagination or thoughts to interrupt your current thoughts if they are distressing, or are restarting intense negative emotion. Telling yourself that your problems will still be around later may make this easier (in case you’re worried they will disappear). Cut yourself some slack for now. You don’t have to worry about your worries not being around to worry about. Give yourself a
break from troubles.

  • Mentally leave your distressing situation
  • Intentionally block out distressing thoughts
  • Think about pleasant things
  • Remember happier times
  • Think about people who have been kind to you
  • Think about an activity you enjoy
  • Build an imaginary wall between yourself & the problem
  • Imagine that you’re in a beautiful location, surrounded by lush trees and bright
  • Put your problems in an imaginary box and place that box on an imaginary shelf
  • Think about future plans for school, family, work, marriage, ect

Energize Your thinking

Use other thoughts to crowd your short term memory. This can derail obsessing and negative thinking related to distress, anger, or depression. For example, if you’re having steady thoughts about something that went wrong (a breakup,failing a test, ect) and these thoughts are feeding into emotional disregulation, think about something that really engrosses your attention. Try to think about
things that really take up your brain space as it were. Think about pleasant times, do mental exercises----whatever works.

  • Count to 10, 50, or 100
  • Watch something engrossing on TV
  • Read a suspenseful novel or mystery
  • Work a crossword or jigsaw puzzles
  • Work logic puzzles
  • Try to understand obscure poetry
  • Count tiles in a floor or ceiling
  • Write out your solutions to a political or social problem
  • Memorize and recite prayers, poetry, or songs
  • Memorize facts about topics that interest you
  • Try to remember every detail of a beautiful day you had

Seek Powerful Sensations

Strong physical sensations can interfere with the physiological component of your current negative emotion. (…You can prevent emotional overheating and interrupt chains of behavior and feeling that could otherwise lead to impulsive acts). Strong physical sensations also may interrupt physiological action urges, such as the urge to harm yourself or other people, to eat or drink to excess, and a host of other behaviors you may be trying to eliminate. By using your physical senses to interrupt destructive patterns, you will be engaging your whole self to
change, not just your brain or will power, but your body will too.

Here are
some suggestions for sensation-seekers:

  • Hold ice cubes very tightly in your hands
  • Take a very hot or very cold shower, or alternate hot and cold water
  • Snap a rubber band on your wrist
  • Drink bitter coffee
  • Listen to hard and loud music
  • Suck on very tart or sour candies, letting them melt in your mouth
  • Squeeze stress balls
  • Do push ups
  • Put ice or a frozen item to your forehead
  • Plunge your bare feet into a bucket of icy water

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When you feel distressed, find a way to sooth yourself. Don’t wait for others to soothe you, although you may want to think about people you can call on to soothe you later. The more things you
can think of to do and practice in any given moment the better, since it’s unrealistic to expect that others always will be available when you need them. To self-soothe you will want to use activities that engage in one or more of the five senses: vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch (Linehan 1993).


Think about all the things you can do or think you can do, or find yourself interested in making accessible to you. Focus on using your sense of sight to see your beauty, peaceful scenes, and art. Create order (organize) your living and work space to reduce any visual chaos or stress.

  • Organize your room to reduce visual chaos
  • Hang pictures on your walls
  • Buy/look at beautiful painting, print, or poster
  • Look at nature (trees, plants, rivers, ponds)
  • Look at photo books or magazines
  • Look at a fountain
  • Watch the sunrise or sunset
  • Watch a thunderstorm


With the emphasis on soothing, you want to find sounds that relax you, calm you, or reassure you. Heavy metal may be great for distraction but for self-soothing you want chamber music or ballads.

  • Listen to classical music or mellow music
  • Buy a “noise” machine with nature sounds
  • Play a musical instrument
  • Sing to yourself
  • Listen to relaxation or meditation tapes
  • Listen to affirmation tapes
  • Listen to books on CD
  • Turn on a fan, air purifier, or anything else that makes white noise
  • Hum a tune
  • Whistle
  • Call a friend
  • Call a toll-free line to hear a human voice
  • Read out loud


Either fill your environment with delicious or beautiful smells, or, if you can’t do that then take yourself somewhere that you can experience smells that bring delight. You may find smells that trigger positive memories or that will likely help you relax.

  • Rub scented oil or lotion over your body
  • Smell fresh laundry
  • Bake fresh bread or brownies
  • Spray air freshener around your room
  • Put on cologne or perfume
  • Wash your hair with fruit scented shampoo
  • Notice the smell of freshly cut grass; smell flowers
  • Use flameless scented candles
  • Go to wooded areas and notice the smells


Remember that you’re human, and as a human you need touch like everyone else. Touch is very nurturing and it triggers endorphins to release in your body, giving you a sense of well-being and connection to others. Touch is a form of communication and can be social, but if you are alone there are strategies to use as well.

  • Go for a swim
  • Take a long and luxurious bath
  • Put clean sheets on your bed and climb in
  • Put on silk pajamas or underwear
  • Take a long hot shower
  • Notice how the wind feels blowing across your face
  • Massage your hand, foot, arm, or leg
  • Rub your temples and forehead
  • Squish your toes in mud
  • Walk barefoot through sand, mud, or grass


When you’re feeling distressed, it’s wise to avoid too much sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. Sugar or caffeine can make you edgy, and alcohol can impair your judgment and impulse control, making you vulnerable to the negative emotional stage you might be experiencing. So pay attention to your needs, your body, and your medical issues. Know what will soothe you instead of trigger you.

  • Slowly eat your favorite food, savoring every bite
  • Slowly drink a warm drink, feeling its warmth entering you
  • Eat hot toast
  • Eat peppermint or cinnamon candy, slowly
  • Drink chocolate milk or warm milk
  • Chew your favorite gum, or try a new one
  • Have heated water with lemon squeezed into it
  • Drink herbal tea
  • Have a bowl of your favorite soup
  • Eat ice cream or make and ice cream sundae
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Other Crisis Survival Strategies

Meaning: Find or create some purpose, meaning, or value in the pain. If you must endure this stress (and/or pain), what lesson(s) might you learn from it? Focus on whatever positive aspects of a painful situation you can find. Repeat them over and over in your mind. Make lemonade out of lemons.

Prayer: Open your heart to a supreme being, greater wisdom, God. Ask for strength to bear the pain in this moment. Turn things over to God or a higher being.

Encouragement (Positive Self-Talk): Cheerlead yourself. Repeat over and over: “I can stand it,” “It won’t last forever,” “I will make it out of this,” “I’m doing the best I can do.”

Thinking of PROS and CONS: Make a list of the pros and cons of tolerating the distress. Make another list of the pros and cons of not tolerating the distress ---that is, of coping by destructive
behavior (such as hurting yourself, abusing alcohol or drugs, or doing something else impulsive). Focus on long-term goals, the light at the end of the tunnel. Remember times when that pain has ended.

Think of the positive consequences of tolerating the distress. Imagine in your mind how good it will feel if you achieve your goals, if you don’t act impulsively.Think of all of the negative consequences of not tolerating your current distress. Remember what has happened in the past when you have acted impulsively to escape the moment.

Source: Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder by Marsha Linehan. 1993. The Guilford Press.

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This is a great resource, Sayu.

I always have a teddy bear in my purse/bag....and I've gotten to the point where I pull him out whenever I need, regardless of where I am!

I also (being highly visual and detail oriented, as well as an artist) will focus on one simple object and try to think of how I'd paint it. For instance, exactly what color is the bench I'm sitting on? How does the light fall on it? How could I replicate that effect in paint?

Another big one I use to self-soothe is singing scales. I learned to sing them by number-- 1,2,3 instead of do, re, mi, so that kind of combines counting with the soothing sound thing. (Also singing scales reminds me of a choir director I had once, and she was a HUGE positive in my life!)

Just adding my bit, and thank you again for posting, Sayu!

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  • 2 weeks later...

I apologize for not responding earlier. I'm glad that you all like the resource.

Copper, I really like your methods of self soothing also; especially distracting your thoughts by focusing on details of an object and how you'd replicate them.

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  • 1 month later...

Thank you so much for posting this. This deffinately will help. I have a ring that I wear that I focus on when I am in a bad place. However the soothing and the tastes and everything is a great add on! I am going to try it I I am in need of it. Thank you so much

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  • 3 months later...

I have an agate, I constantly rub it between finger and thumb, I even take it to bed,

the chain wrapped round my wrist so that it stays in my hand, so cool, smooth and

soothing, I so need it at the moment HATE this time of year, so scared :bye:

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  • 2 months later...

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