Self Care: Creating a Self-Soothing Box
When I worked as a Paediatric Sensory OT, I would often suggest to families or school teachers that children with sensory needs might benefit from a sensory box. What I didn’t realise back then is that we can ALL benefit from having a sensory box, or self-soothe box as they are more commonly known in psychology circles.
The idea behind the self-soothe box is the same as the sensory box that I prescribed countless times, that is, having a box of things that are calming or supportive to you & your system. For kids boxes, I always recommended fidget-toys and items with different textures e.g. feathers, cotton wool, one side of velcro, sandpaper, etc. The idea was that the different textures would be there, on hand, to provide the necessary support to the child’s system when they needed it. They would always know what their body wanted out of the box.
One day it might have been the piece of Blu-Tack because that sticky, squishable-yet-firm feeling was what their brain was craving. Other days it might have been a marble or a feather. Our body has an amazing ability to know what it needs to bring it back to a state of calm but sometimes we need to give it some options, rather than trying to ‘think’ on the spot when we are in a state of distress.
Obviously, children’s boxes had a lot of constraints, especially if they were for school and had to be noise free so as not to disturb the other kids. Boxes for adults, on the other hand, there are no boundaries! Except, I would say, let’s keep the items in the box to things which are supportive and won’t cause you harm!
The whole idea of the self-soothe box is to have these items ready on hand for times when we are distressed or having trouble coping. Being distressed or having trouble coping is going to look different for each of us, and therefore the content of our boxes are probably going to look different too.
Distress can be defined as: “an aversive, negative state in which coping and adaptation processes fail to return an organism to physiological and/or psychological homeostasis” (Carstens and Moberg 2000; Moberg 1987; NRC 1992).
For some people, distress might be high anxiety and related behaviours such as skin picking, repetitive movements like tapping, leg jiggling, feelings/thoughts of panic, high heart rate, increased breathing rate.
For others, distress might look more like depression, and it’s behaviours, such as crying, staying in bed for long periods, wanting to sleep, low motivation, poor concentration. It could also be thoughts or feelings of wanting to hurt someone or something, including oneself.
We all get distressed when the stressor(s) outweigh our coping & adaptation processes. Some people are better at bringing themselves back to a state of relative calm, than others. And that’s OK. It is what it is; we are all wired differently. However, the self-soothe box can be useful for those people who have a bit more difficulty with self-regulating and bringing themselves back to that state of relative calm.
So, if you’re one of those people (I am!), what can you put in your box? The idea is to try and get enough things that you cover all five senses: Touch, Taste, Vision, Smell, Hearing.
Here are some suggestions:
- Hand cream
- Essential Oils
- Colouring book & pencils
- Paintbrush & paints
- A list of your favourite pick-me-up songs
- A list of your favourite pick-me-up or distract DVD’s
- A feather
- Cotton wool balls
- Bubble wrap for popping
- Nail polish
- Photographs of special people or places
- Cards with affirmations written on them
- A note to tell you to take a bath or warm shower
- Playdoh or Putty
- Stress ball
- Fidget toys
- Note to turn on white noise app on your phone or tablet
Now I think there will be a whole bunch of things that you’re already doing or using to help with your self-soothing (whether you realise it or not!). It’s an excellent idea to have a box that you can put these things in, and have it in a place where you often sit at home so that it’s on hand when you need it.
We would LOVE people to share things they might put in their box! Photos (on Facebook comments) of what’s in your box are also welcome!
Michelle is a Senior Occupational Therapist working solely with adults with hypermobility and related conditions. Michelle is the owner of Hypermobility Connect, an online platform for people with hypermobility to connect with resources, health professionals & each other. Michelle practices OT in her private practice and provides education to health professionals relating to hypermobility conditions.