A short time ago I blogged about My Self-Care Plan. Included in that Plan was a reference to what I call my CALMtainer. It’s based on a Dialectic Behavioural Therapy (DBT) distress tolerance tool: the wellness toolkit, with the sole difference being the name. Since this wellness toolkit creates calm when I’m distressed, I decided to use the word “calm” in describing it. Hence, my CALMtainer.
The idea behind the tool is this:
- get a container that has or can have a warm and special meaning to you;
- place into this container items that elicit strong, warm memories for you, or strong and safe tactile responses, or just simply make you feel better;
- pick items that will cumulatively engage all five senses,
and use them to distract and calm yourself when you’re in distress, or simply seek a moment of calm.
It sounds so simple, but I find that it’s that simplicity that makes it accessible and allows it to work.
The heart of the CALMtainer is distraction. Distraction is all about creating a break in the racing thoughts or darker thoughts we’re experiencing. Focusing on the breath, holding a cube of ice, lighting a candle and enjoying the aroma, are all simple distractors that can move our thoughts away from something distressing to something else. Why not have that something else be something calming?
Typically, when you’re in distress distractors are the furthest things from your mind. You don’t easily think of them. And often they aren’t readily accessible. That’s where the CALMtainer shines. It takes a variety of distractors – a memory, a scent, a sensation, a sound, an image – and places them into something accessible and meaningful to you that you can use whenever the need arises. Place your CALMtainer conspicuously. Make your distractors accessible.
But, that’s not the only benefit. The creation of the CALMtainer offers distraction as well. You’re distracted while selecting your contents, or while you recall, or sense or imagine those contents.
They take you out of your head. The more you do this, the easier it becomes until the distressors lose their sway.
Now that you have the general idea, let’s explore what’s in my CALMtainer:
My CALMtainer is actually two containers, the wooden box described below and my smartphone which holds my wellness apps. Today I’ll discuss the wooden box. My smartphone and its wellness apps will be shared in a separate post.
Your CALMtainer can only be created while you’re in a period of calm. My CALMtainer was created while participating in an intensive outpatient program at my local hospital. Here’s a partial list of what it includes to give you the idea:
- my involuntary commital and discharge papers. While my suicide attempt represents the lowest point of my life, it’s also, paradoxically, a high point. For the first time in years. the incessant chatter in my head stopped. I experienced a blissful quiet that gave birth to my desire to heal and permitted hope to enter.
- A picture of my son as a toddler. In it he’s smiling broadly and filled with the innocent animation that only children display. It fills me with love and warmth.
- One of two photographs I have of my granda. When I look at it, I remember how each Sunday he and I rode the “Batman” train (the Glasgow underground) to the post-office where he worked. He’d fire up the broilers to heat the building. I knew how to run that equipment when I was four. I also remember how he shared every cup of tea or bottle of ginger (soda pop) with me, leaving me the bottom 1/2 inch or so. All of my relatives knew that the bottom portion was exclusively mine to enjoy. My granda is the only real male influence I had in my life. I miss him terribly.
- My mala, a wooden bead meditation necklace I made. One of the few things I made just for me, handling it aids my meditation and reminds me of the fun I had while making it.
- A spiral notebook. My mind was broken in September 2014. I relied on spiral notebooks to keep me on track. In them, I recorded all of the minutiae of daily life. They helped my mind heal.
- The CD from The Mindful Way Through Depression. It represents the audio tools I use to better my health. Those audio tools include guided meditations and audiobooks.
- The business card of K. S. The first person I met at the CMHA (Durham), K. S. treated me with compassion I couldn’t give to myself. She showed me that I was worthy despite my belief to the contrary.
- In addition to the spiral notebooks, I’ve got a number of exercise books filled with my writing. They include my explorations of gratitude, my lists of successes, and the results of my research. They include my growth and my aspirations.
- Colouring books. I love to colour. I find the practice to be quite meditative. The colours reflect my mood but also help to change it. Colouring, like writing, allows me to explore my creative side, something I lost during too many years of blackness.
- My paintings, some framed and hung; the “scribble” art on the cover of my CALMtainer; and many more pieces of art. Again, the use of colour is meditative while painting engages my creative side.
- A chemical icepack from a first aid kit. Changes in temperature can elicit changes in thinking.
- A fidget cube to click on, feel, slide and more. The various sides have different “activities” to play with that help to redirect my thoughts.
- The wooden box for my CALMtainer was a serendipitous find. While I was creating my CALMtainer I looked for something to place it in. I came across an old tote in my closet and found a host of treasures including a wooden box of photos of my son. This wooden box is my current CALMtainer.
Here’s a short video of my CALMtainer that I shared on Twitter:
Someone I know filled his CALMtainer with mementos of golf (tees, balls, gloves, etc) because golfing is when he feels his calmest. Someone else included essential oils to engage the sense of smell (I use a scented candle) and some hard candy mints to engage the sense of taste. The creation of a CALMtainer is reliant only on your imagination. It can be as simple or as complex as you like. But begin with the five senses. Find a way to engage each of them and build from there.
Thank you for allowing me to share this post with you. Hopefully, you’ve found it inspirational and you’re hard at work creating your own CALMtainer. And remember, there’s more to come – the second half of my CALMtainer, my smartphone and its wellness apps.
Image and video by John Dickson