Make Your Own Self-Harm Coping Box
The road to recovery is never a simple, straight path forward; it curves unexpectedly, and sometimes we find we must backtrack before we can make progress. No matter what point you’re at in your own journey, a self-harm coping box can be an incredibly useful tool to help you navigate and stay on track.
What is a Self-Harm Coping Box?
A coping box, also known as an emergency box, safety box, or self-soothing box (among myriad other names) is exactly what it sounds like: a box in which you keep items that will help you cope with self-harm cravings and potential relapses.
It doesn’t have to be a fancy box, although it can be. The simple task of making, or shopping for, a pretty box can itself be a soothing exercise. Or, you might want something more low-key if you’re not into crafting, on a tight budget, or want to prevent drawing unwanted attention to it. An old shoebox works nicely in either case, if you happen to have one lying around. If you don’t, you can easily make a box from scratch using cardboard or even heavy-duty paper—finding a tutorial for doing so is as easy as a quick Google or YouTube search.
Ideally, your self-harm coping box should be somewhat small, or at least easy to manage, so that you can pull it out in a hurry should you need to. You might even want to have more than one—a small, travel-sized one to keep with you on your person when you go out, and a larger one you keep at home that can contain a greater variety of helpful items.
What to Store in a Self-Harm Coping Box
Like the container itself, the contents of your self-harm coping box are ultimately up to you and will depend on what you find most helpful. Think about what makes you feel better when you are at a low point, and what has helped you heal self-inflicted injuries in the past. What calms you when you’re anxious or depressed? What can help remind you of your motivations for trying to get better?
If you’re unsure, here are some ideas to help you get started:
- Symbolic items. For example, you can’t stuff your family into a shoebox. But you can include a family photo that will remind you that you are loved, that you are not alone, and that you have people you want to stay in recovery for, even on those days when you don’t want it for yourself. Photos are perhaps the easiest store, but any small trinkets or keepsakes that remind you of good times, good feelings, or good things to look forward to will work just as well.
- Distractions. Rainbow-colored rubber bands, fidget toys, hobby items—anything that will give you something other than your cravings to concentrate is an excellent candidate for inclusion.
- Comfort objects. Maybe squishing a soft plush animal makes you feel better, or maybe you’re more into stress balls, play dough, or nostalgic knickknacks. Any, or all, of these objects could become helpful self-soothing tools to keep in your coping box.
- Reading materials. Pocket-sized books or poetry books are great for habitual readers, but even if you’re not a bookworm, inspirational quotes, affirmations, and prayers also make great coping box items.
- Art supplies. Art therapy can be incredibly useful for coping with many of the symptoms and triggers associated with self-harm, and you don’t have to be a master artist to take advantage of it. Finger paints, coloring books, and scrapbooking materials can all be just as effective as a canvas and a brush. Some people even find it helpful to decorate their own bodies in the places where they would normally self-harm, both to quell cravings and to provide motivation for protecting those areas from damage.
- Lists and plans. When you’re in the thick of it, making decisions and remembering even simple coping mechanisms can be difficult. Keeping lists of things that make you happy and activities you can try to feel better makes it easier, when the time comes, to put those ideas to good use. Preparing a relapse plan ahead of time is valuable for the same reasons—it’s much easier to do what’s needed if you’ve already established those steps prior to a crisis or emergency situation. A list of important phone numbers, including doctors, therapists, and trusted loved ones you can call during a difficult time, is another excellent option to include.
- Aromatherapy items. While it’s not helpful for everyone, many people find scented candles or essential oils helpful for calming the intense emotions that can provoke, or be provoked by, self-injury. Lotions, bath bombs, and electric oil diffusers or wax melters are great options that don’t require an open flame.
- Water. A water bottle keeps indefinitely, and drinking a cup of water is both calming and good for staying hydrated—both of which can help reduce the intensity of cravings.
- Music. Many people listen to music on their phones nowadays, but if you still have CDs, an mp3 player, or records that you enjoy listening to, your coping box might be a good place to keep them. Or, you might include printouts of your favorite song lyrics, especially if you like to sing along. Music, like art, provides an excellent outlet for releasing negative emotions and inspiring more positive ones.
The options are all but limitless. If it fits, it sits—in your self-harm coping box, that is.
Want to know a secret? You don’t even have to have a physical box. In most cases, it will probably be more effective to go through the actual motions of putting a box together and pulling it out whenever you need it, but if you really aren’t up for that yet—for any reason—try visualizing your box instead. Picture whatever container you like, and then imagine placing one object in it at a time until it’s full. Practice this regularly, as you would any meditative exercise, to get the most out of it.
And then, whenever you need it, you can visualize the opposite. When the cravings get too strong and the triggers seem to pile up around you, find a safe, quiet space to duck into and close your eyes. Picture your box. Imagine reaching for whatever you need most at that moment, whether it’s a mantra or a memory, or something else entirely. Hold onto it for as long as you need to, or as long as you can, and then put it away, knowing it will always be there should you need to reach for it again.
It might sound silly, but it really does help.
Do you have a coping box? What else might be a good idea to include in a self-harm soothing box? Feel free to share your suggestions and questions in the comments!