Around 2010-2013, my life fell apart. I left my religion, supported my husband through a mental hospitalization, found out my mom had cancer and my dad had ALS, I lost a child, divorced my husband becoming a single mom to 3 kids, entered the workforce, nursed my mom through death, and began a new relationship. That’s kind of a lot.

During this time, I spent a lot of time with my therapist and I attended a DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) group where we learned about some methods to calm emotional distress. Not like the stuff where you’re a bit stressed, or sad – the full-on emotional meltdown, panic attack, suicidal ideation kind of distress. The human brain is really good at getting stuck when distressed, so you have to tell it to shut up. This is not easy unless something is louder than the thoughts. It turns out our senses are pretty loud, cognitively speaking.

I started keeping some stuff around – yarn, gum, ice, essential oils, etc. It took some time to learn to recognize when I was spiraling, but once I did, I could turn to my distress kit and start to pull myself out of that spiral.

Fast forward to 2018, and I’ve been working in customer support for about 5 years. There isn’t a customer on this planet who is tougher on me than me, but I still use this technique. So while I wrote this with customer service people in mind, I’m here to tell you that this stuff works. Give it a try!

Why 5 senses?

Our brains solve problems in a very, well? cerebral way. When the brain starts to get fatigued, focusing on our body’s 5 senses provides a brief reprieve and reset. It’s a mindfulness practice that works very well.

How do I use a Self-Care kit?

The kit can be used any time, but it’s most useful when you feel overwhelmed, stuck, or unable to think clearly due to stress or emotional upset. At first, it may take awhile to find your center again, even with an elaborate kit. As you gain experience and familiarity with your kit, just holding the box or bag you keep your goodies in may be enough to get you back to feeling well.

When I use my kit, I first darken my monitor after telling my team I’m taking a quick break. Then, I take a drink of water, a big breath, and tell myself I’m taking a break. Then I look at my pictures, listen to something pleasant, snuggle my cat, and chew some gum, drink tea, or eat a small piece of candy I’ve saved. If I need a bit more time, I go for a brisk walk around the block or neighborhood.

While it can seem difficult to take a break, you’ll soon find that 5-10 minutes away can save hours of stress in the day. And if you need more time? Take it! But using your kit to calm down a bit at first will help you make a decision about how much time you need with more clarity.

What do I gather?

What you put in your box or kit is entirely up to you. It can be as large and extravagant or as simple as you like. Your office setup, personality, budget, and mobility will all help determine what your box looks like. The important thing to remember is that a self care kit isn’t static. You can change it any time, adding or removing things as you learn what works for you, or as you use up consumables in your box. Use the 5 senses as your framework, and you’ll always be ready for the tough days.

Need some ideas? Use the suggestions below as a spark for your own inspiration.

Note: You do not need all of your senses covered! It’s fine to focus on your most soothing senses, or the ones that are most strong for you. However, I do recommend aiming for having several options, regardless of what you focus on. Gum might be perfect one day, while tea is where it’s at next week. You never know and it’s hard to predict.


Something to look at:

  • Cute pictures
  • Family pictures
  • Favorite vacation spots
  • Your favorite art
  • Fresh flowers on your desk
  • Mini art supplies


Something enjoyable to smell:

  • Fresh flowers can do double duty with sight
  • An orange, chocolate, or your favorite tea can meet the taste need too
  • Scented stickers. Remember scratch n’ sniff from your childhood? They still exist!
  • Your favorite perfume or essential oil
  • Candles if you can have them in your location


  • Music – create your own custom playlist!
  • Soothing nature sounds
  • A small bell or musical instrument
  • Small music box
  • A place where you can sit and listen to something different – music, birds, children playing, etc.


  • Chewing gum
  • Fresh fruit
  • Coffee or tea
  • Chocolate
  • Flavored lip balm
  • Hard candies


  • Small stuffed animal
  • Textured fidgets – you can generally find these in education stores
  • Lotion
  • Squeezable stress ball
  • Hot or cold packs – can be found where you buy first aid supplies

Do you already use something like this? Tell us about it! I’d also love to hear any ideas you come up with. Feel free to share images and notes with us by tagging @olark on social media!

This post originally appeared on the Olark blog, Now Chatting. Sarah Betts is the Feels Herder at This means she helps people communicate with their customers via live chat, and creates and manages content around Making Business Human. She also parents a whole passel of kids, remodels her 1930’s house, and brews beverages in her backyard for kicks.

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