Episode four of Mood Ring is a collection of self-care tools explored by Anna Borges. Anna shares clips submitted by listeners describing how they deal with the onset of a negative mental health moment.
Title: Build Your Self Care Kit
Description: Episode four of Mood Ring is a collection of self care tools explored by Anna Borges. The host shares clips submitted by listeners describing how they deal with the onset of a negative mental health moment.
Anna Borges: I want you to picture something for me. Feel free to settle in and close your eyes.
Think about what it’s like to have a … common cold. Think about how your body aches. How heavy your limbs are. How runny or stuffed up your nose is. [Sound of sloshing water] Think of that underwater sensation in your head, how out of it you feel.
Now picture what you do to take care of yourself when you have a cold. What makes you feel better? What foods and drinks do you gravitate toward? Warm soup. Ginger Ale. Toast. A mug of tea. And, what do you do? Maybe you go straight back to bed. Maybe take a shower and change into clean pajamas. Maybe you drag the coziest blankets to the couch and burrito up. What shows do you watch? Who do you text? What supplies do you gather? The whole ritual.
Now I want you to think about a moment when you weren’t feeling so hot mentally. Choose a type of moment that comes up occasionally, like a cold does. Something that’s no fun, but something familiar. Maybe there are times when you’re so frustrated by work you could scream. Maybe there are weekends that you don’t have any plans and feel extra lonely. Maybe sometimes your to-do list reaches a certain point … that you can feel nothing but overwhelmed. Or maybe you don’t have a specific moment or reason—maybe sometimes your sadness or anxiety or hurt or pain just flares up, and you know you’re in for a rough day.
Whatever situation you choose, remember what it’s like, how you felt.
Did you know what to reach for? Did you know what would make you feel better? Did you know what you really needed in that moment?
For a long time, I didn’t. A lot of the time. We know what to do when we’re sick. Why do we know so much less about what to do when we’re angry? Or sad? Or lonely? Or overwhelmed? Or anything?
Why don’t we have a plan for that?
Hey, I’m Anna Borges and this is Mood Ring, a practical guide to feelings...even when you’re not exactly sure what will make you feel better. Every episode, we’ll explore one new way to cope—with our feelings, with our baggage, with our brains, or with the world around us.
Anna Borges: This episode, we’re kind of cheating—we’re not exploring just one new way to cope. We’re exploring, like, a whole ass coping kit. Because it doesn’t matter how many self-care tips you know. Like, when you feel something strongly or you’re in that moment when you’re upset or pissed off or in your feelings, it can be hard to access the tools that exist in your head, and remember what makes you feel better.
That’s where this thing I like to call a coping kit comes in.
Sounds fancy maybe but, really building a coping kit just means making a plan, and having a set of go-to tools or activities at the ready so you don’t have to worry about it when you’re in a bad place. You just go, okay, that is what I do when I feel this way. A coping kit is about making it as easy as possible for Future You to take care of yourself in moments when it’s not easy to remember how the fuck to take care of yourself.
So, let’s talk about how to make one. For help on this, I put out a call on social media because no two coping kits are the same. And I don’t just mean what’s in it. I also mean how it comes to life.
Anonymous: “My coping mechanism, which a lot of people actually judge, but, has been to sort of like post funny Instagram stories.”
Kevin: “Pretty much anything off of Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion album. I do a lot of finger-pointing.”
Anonymous: “I tell my spouse I'm going to go flop, which is code for this state of sort of like, I don't care and don't expect any level of productivity or substantial response from me.”
Anonymous: “I actually also do jigsaw puzzles online. I think they’re a really good way for me to focus on one thing, without having to think about the rest.”
Pooja: “I’ll do like two reps on the leg press just to get some blood flowing, and then I'll come back up.”
Anna Borges: As you just heard, there’s no one way to make a coping kit. Our producer, Georgie, has a physical box of things that she reaches for. And yours can be whatever—a beautiful spread in a bullet journal, a list on your phone’s app. Just make sure it exists somewhere outside your head.
So, how do you get started?
First things first, you have to know what your coping kit is for, since it’s not a one-size-fits-all kinda deal. I personally have several kinds of coping kits and I keep track of them in a spreadsheet. If we’re sticking with the whole sick metaphor, what you need when you have a cold is different from what you need when you have the stomach flu. And what you need when you’re pissed at your boss is probably different than what you need when you’re spiraling about climate anxiety.
There’s no need to get hyper-specific with the situation like that though. A lot of the time, it’s enough to start with the feeling you want to make a plan for dealing with. A coping kit for anxious moments. For frustrated ones. For insecure ones. Whatever feels like a good place to start. Whatever feeling or situation you build your kit for, the central question is basically, “What do I need when I feel that way?”
And if you’re like, ugh, I have no idea? Don’t worry. I have a few categories that might help get your juices flowing, plus we have plenty more examples from my cast of coping kit volunteers. We’ll get into it all after a short break.
Hey, welcome back to Mood Ring! This is Anna Borges. Before the break we were talking about identifying the feelings that we want to soothe with our coping kits. So, now let’s get to actually building one.
Anna Borges: Think again, before we get started, of that moment or situation or feeling that you want to make a game plan for that’s really helpful to have at the back of your mind. Whatever theme you landed on. So like I mentioned, when I’m brainstorming a new coping kit, I tend to think about it in terms of a couple of different categories.
The first big bucket that I tend to start with is, well, literal things. Physical objects, tangible items that you can touch or use or wear or see or feel. They might be things that engage my senses—you know like a really soft blanket to curl up in, or … an aromatherapy neck pillow I can throw in the microwave and get all warm and toasty. And I also think of comfort objects, like photos that bring up happy memories or a sentimental stuffed animal.
One of my favorite object-related ideas that I got from my callout was pretty unexpected—lightbulbs. It just goes to show that these kits are very personal and specific.
Anonymous: I have a couple of things that I do to cope when I've had a bad day at work or when I'm just not feeling very good and I don't want to get out of bed or something like that. I really enjoy, I got the Phillips hue, like, the colored LED lights and I set up a scene based on a sunset photo I took at the beach years ago. And it was just my favorite spot and it is my favorite, like, blend of warm lighting. And, that has helped me so much because I can just transport my back there to those warm moments.
Anna Borges: The next kind of umbrella category is activities. And that is a very wide umbrella, but consider that soothing activities, distracting activities, fun activities, relaxing activities, just any activity that has the power to change your mood for the better.
My coping kits tend to be pretty heavy on activities, you know across the board. I think I'm probably not alone in that because we got a lot of fun activities-related submissions. So I’m just gonna go ahead and jump into there because I like them better than mine. [laughs]
Anne: When I feel out of control, or depressed in a really restless way, the thing that will always make me feel better is cleaning. I will do my dishes, which is my least favorite thing to do, but I'll put on a really trashy podcast while I do them. Or I'll sweep, which I love because I find it very fulfilling to see all of the amount of like dust and dirt and grime coming together and being disposed of.
Anonymous: When I feel overwhelmed with everything that's going on in my life and trying to plan for the future, I take a walk over the Manhattan bridge. From my apartment to the bridge is a 30 minute walk. And over the bridge is another 30 minutes. I get 60 minutes to myself to clear my head, to think about my current state, and to think about my future state. I do not listen to a podcast, I do not listen to an audio book. I typically listen to instrumental music, or actually some booty shaking hit,s just to get the creative juices flowing. And I immediately feel better having that time to truly clear my head, be in nature, and get moving.
Anonymous: I experience intrusive thoughts that suggest I do very bad things to myself. So, in the bad thoughts space, I pull out a few of my favorite responses to the yuck! Taking a super hot shower. I invested a couple of years ago in a teakwood shower bench so I can sit down, but not on the floor, which feels, like, too sad for me. This way, I'm able to relax more muscles and just kind of be in the steam, like, highly recommend this one.
Anna Borges: We also got a lot of submissions around activities like exercise or arts and crafts and hobbies. Playing with pets was a big one, too. Really just anything that keeps you occupied.
The next thing might be more of a subcategory within activities, rather than its own category, but I like to call it out separately. And I'm thinking of activities like therapeutic exercises. You know, specific meditations, workbooks, that kind of thing.
Some therapeutic activities might have a higher barrier to entry than others though, especially if you don’t have access to a therapist or if you feel intimidated by some of the stuff you find online. But one did come up a few times in our submissions: positive self-talk and coping statements. Or, you know, talking to yourself.
Bonnie: I struggle with OCD, and one of my coping mechanisms lately is an affirmation where I basically just tell myself … this too shall pass. And that I look back at other times where I've been, in this situation before and I've overcome it. And looking back at those times reminds me that I can overcome the struggles now, like I did then.
Anonymous: First, I kind of just say to myself, like, it's okay. It's okay. Because as basic and simple as that sounds like it is okay. It's not a life or death situation. I can figure out a way to solve it.
Anonymous: I speak kindly to myself. I catch the mean words in my head and I hold them softly. I call myself, especially the hurt and hurting parts of myself, sweet pet names, like boo bear, honey and baby girl.
Anna Borges: Words of affirmation and other coping statements like that might not be your thing, but there are other free resources out there that can help get you started on things like deep breathing or guided meditation. I’ll leave some recommendations in the episode notes so you can consider some to put in your coping kit.
I tend to think of our second to last category, as the people category. It doesn't have to mean people that you reach out to for help necessarily. It can mean people who always make you laugh and feel better, or places where you're around people and it's distracting, or someone you can count on to do some of the activities we just brainstormed with you, so you don't have to do them alone. But if possible, it can be really helpful to also include people who you do reach out to and turn to for actual support if you need it.
Kevin: Talking with somebody who can kind of help you work through everything. Be like, hey, I'm going through some things. And then without even prompting, they say, hey, do you want to talk about it? Or is there anything I can do? It's not even a distraction, but it is, it's good to just sort out with somebody who cares and who understands and can empathize. Self-care is tough, but I, we're all out here trying.
Anna Borges: And lastly, one of the best parts of any coping kit in my experience are the things that defy categorization, cause you straight up made ‘em up. And I so encourage people to name that and just lean into it. Honestly, these next couple of submissions just really inspired me.
Anne: When I'm in my feelings about something. Not quite depressed, just like having an emotional reaction. I find that the best thing to do is to feel it. So I will lean in all the way, full main character. Will draw the blinds, turn off all the lights, light a bunch of candles and lay on the floor … and play like 1980s power ballads. And I'll just cry, and it feels really nice.
Anonymous: My coping mechanism, which a lot of people actually judge, but has been to sort of like post funny Instagram stories or TikToks about it. It's sort of walking the line between complaining and just sort of like cathartic humor, and I'm still trying to figure out exactly what it means to me, and if it feels healthy or maybe toxic. But I think in the end, laughing about things has proven to me to be the most cathartic way I can possibly cope with my mental health struggles. I will just keep posting and laughing about it and using that as my coping mechanism.
Anonymous: Another technique is one I call flopping. Sometimes when I'm spent and raw feeling, I just need to zone the F out and be non-responsive. Like I can partially watch something hella chill on the TV, stare out the window, doze in and out of a nap. It doesn't really matter what I do while I'm flopping. The main element is that I have literally flopped onto the bed in a mostly horizontal position. And I don't have to get up anytime soon. Freedom to just be.
Your coping kit can contain any number of these things. Some coping kits might be heavier on objects and things that engage your senses, and others might be all therapeutic tools all the time because that’s what you need when you’re feeling x,y,z. There’s no perfect formula to it.
And the cool thing about a coping kit is that it can change over time. And probably will. You’ll be picking up new ideas and finding new things that make you feel better. Hopefully maybe on this show. So now I want to know: What’s in your coping kit? Give us a call at 833-666-3746 and tell me about it—we’ll be highlighting the unique ways our listeners cope throughout the season. Can’t wait to hear from you!
I want to thank our listeners who submitted their coping kits to this episode. So thank you again to Bonnie, Kevin, Pooja, Anne, Taylor, and our other anonymous listeners.
Thanks for listening to Mood Ring, a production of APM Studios and Pizza Shark. We’re a new show, so it really helps if you rate, review, and share this episode with your friends. You can even tag me if you’re really into it — I’m @AnnaBroges on Twitter – that’s Anna B-R-O-G-E-S … because Anna Borges was taken. We want to hear from you. You can get in touch at Moodringshow DOT ORG and click “Contact Us.” Or follow Mood Ring Show on Twitter and Instagram. You could also call and leave us a message at 833-666-3746.
Mood Ring was developed by Kristina Lopez. Our executive producers are Maria Murriel, Isis Madrid and Beth Pearlman. Our story editor is Erika Janik. Mijoe Sahiouni is our digital producer. This episode was produced by Georgina Hahn. And as you know, I’m Anna Borges and I write, host and produce this show too.
APM Executives in charge are Chandra Kavati, Alex Schaffert and Joanne Griffith. And finally, our music is by Mat Rotenberg.
Thanks again for listening and I hope to see you next episode.