How to create a mental health first aid kit

When you suffer a cut or a graze you reach for the plasters, but what do you do when you’re feeling frazzled? Here’s what Breathe has put aside to soothe its mind and nerves on those off days…

Your smartphone

The advantage of using your phone as part of your kit is that it’s the one item you’re likely to have with you wherever you are. Create a folder of meditation apps, such as Calm, Insight, Buddhify and Headspace, so if you need to take a few minutes to calm your mind or nerves you can listen to a guided meditation. There are also apps that prompt you to think about what you’re thankful for, such as What’s Good.

Why not put together a comfort playlist of favourite tunes that lift your spirits, improve your mood and energise you? It doesn’t matter how uncool your selection is, no one else need listen to it. Or compile a selection that feels soothing and restful, in case that’s what helps at a particular moment.
Most phones have a voice memo app where you can record yourself talking. Perhaps record a message to play to yourself when you’re feeling particularly anxious, upset or low.

Most people’s phones are filled with photos (which they rarely get round to printing) so put together a digital album that makes you smile. It could include photos of your family, friends and beloved pets, occasions that remind you of happy memories or scenes that uplift you.

Essential oils

Essential oils can be a speedy solution because when you inhale the scent it goes straight to your limbic system, which affects your emotion and memory. That’s why sometimes all it takes is a whiff of a smell instantly to change your mood and bring back memories. It’s well known that chamomile and lavender are calming and soothing (although it’s worth remembering that more lavender than you need can have the opposite effect), grapefruit is uplifting and peppermint refreshing. Keep a little bottle handy to inhale when required or choose a roll-on such as Tisserand’s Head Clear or De-Stress, or Neal’s Yard Remedies’ Energy or Relaxation. These blends can be rubbed on to your pulse points and they’re small enough to fit in a pocket.

Quick fix list

When you’re struggling mentally, a list of actions that you can choose from to help yourself can be useful. Write them down and keep them somewhere handy, like your desk drawer or bag. Or save them as a note on your phone so you can access them anywhere, any time.
What you write on the list is personal to you – what would make you feel better when you’re having a tough day? Maybe going for a walk, listening to your comfort playlist or phoning a friend, or more restful suggestions like taking a nap, reading a chapter of your book or meditating.
It’s worth noting down some basic ideas too – drinking a glass of water, making a cup of tea, eating something nourishing or taking a few deep breaths in and out may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget the importance of such simple actions to wellbeing.

Notebook and pen

There could be any number of reasons why you feel the need to dive into your mental health first aid kit, but whatever’s going on inside your head, taking it out of your brain and putting it down on a piece of paper can help. Whether that’s as a stream of consciousness, a to-do list of everything you’re trying to remember or reasons for and against an argument, writing it in a notebook can ease the burden.

Focusing on the good things around you can also be useful. Take a few minutes to jot down what you appreciate in your life, what you feel grateful for and what makes you smile. This enables your brain to think of the positives rather than the negatives (it can’t do both at once), giving you a break from stress. And having them written down means that on another occasion you can flick back and recall positive moments.

Whatever else you choose to add to your kit – a quotation you find inspiring, a nourishing snack, something to read or even a puzzle – remember you can add to it or swap things in and out depending on how you feel and what you need at the time. What matters is now you have something to make those stressful situations that little bit easier.

  • Words: Gabrielle Treanor. Find inspiration, e-courses and a wellbeing resource library at
  • Illustration: Laura Backeberg
  • Article extract from Breathe Issue 11 – buy the digital edition here.