With the holidays quickly approaching, now is the perfect time to have a secret weapon for keeping stress levels down while dealing with the inevitable challenges the season may bring. Sensory toolboxes are quick, easy go-tos to help reduce emotional distress. A sensory toolbox is made up of various self-soothing items that you have selected for yourself and which best fit your sensory modality (taste, touch, vision, smell, sound). For instance, smell is my primary sensory modality, so my toolbox is filled with various scented oils and candles. Looking at old pictures and reading sentimental cards (vision) instantly helps to relax me, so I have also made sure to include those items in my toolbox.
When the emotional center in our brain overshadows our rational/reasonable mind, it is almost impossible to think about what coping skills would be helpful in that moment. Having a ready-made toolbox that one can grab at a moment’s notice is a super helpful strategy for helping to regulate our emotions.
For Yourself: I recommend keeping one toolbox at home and creating another “to go box” that can easily be slipped into a purse or backpack. For example, I carry a handy makeup bag filled with lavender oils (to calm me down), mint gum or lemon (if I need a pick-me-up), and a picture of my family (for immediate grounding to remind me what is most important at the end of the day).
For Your Children: Modeling adaptive distress tolerance skills to one’s kids can create a space where they may begin to ask questions and express curiosity about the skills being used. This tool can be used for both young kids and teens alike.
For Your Family: Creating sensory toolboxes can also be a fun family activity to have each family member create his or her own toolboxes. When my kids were little, I remember creating sensory backpacks with them, filled with yummy scents, soft blankets, stuﬀed animals, a fun game, crayons, and coloring books. These backpacks were also a great addition to long car rides!
Everyone’s toolbox is unique and speaks to them personally. If you are someone who struggles with eating issues, using taste as a sensory modality may illicit negative emotions, ultimately defeating the purpose of the practice. Keep in mind that smell can bring back strong memories from childhood. Some scents have positive associations, while others may trigger diﬃcult or even traumatic memories. With that said, there are no right or wrong ways to build a toolbox. The most important thing is to create one that WORKS for you and remember to have FUN in the process. What will be in yours?