How to Build an Emotional Tool Belt
Updated: Nov 5, 2021
An emotional tool belt can be a lifesaver when life gets a little harder than usual, offering what you need to tackle life's ups and downs.
An emotional tool belt is a collection of hacks, tips, tricks, actions, routines, meditations, and other practices that can help regulate our emotions and have the support we need.
Everyone needs emotional tools to help us successfully walk through life. Emotional tools can help us deal with tragedy and hardship as well as help us see and appreciate life’s blessings.
For example, some people carry a worry stone or a fidget spinner to give their anxious fingers something to do when they need to take their mind away from stressful things. Other emotional tools might be less tangible, like a friend or a therapist you know you can talk to.
Different tools and practices work for different people, so today we’re going to go over the principles behind finding and developing your own set of emotional tools.
Become more self-aware.
Being self-aware might sound easy to do. After all, no one should know you better than you know yourself. But self-awareness can be extremely difficult when bias or denial get in our way.
Start learning self-awareness by keeping a journal and a daily tracker. I suggest using Daylio. A journal will help you figure out your own internal struggles and a daily tracker will help you make important connections that you can later act upon.
For example, you might notice that an evening stroll can help you feel bad after a hard or stressful day. Walks can then be included in your list of emotional tools when you need something to help you feel better or wind down.
Likewise, you might realize that eating late at night keeps you from getting quality sleep. I for one, tend to get acid reflux and insomnia if I eat too close to going to bed. This then goes on my list of things to avoid.
Be careful not to put items on your list of things to avoid that you can’t or shouldn’t avoid, like interacting with other people or going to work every day. But, recognizing that these things are difficult for you is a crucial first step to figuring out how to tackle personal struggles.
Learn how to learn about yourself by listening to uplifting and informative podcasts like iWeigh, Unlocking Us, or by taking personality tests like the Enneagram, Myers Briggs, or the 5 Love Languages.
Don’t be afraid of self-discovery! When learning about ourselves, sometimes we learn things we didn’t want to know. Don’t be afraid of discovering your flaws and weaknesses. The journey of self-awareness is not to achieve perfection and get rid of all your flaws, but to be fully aware of yourself as a complete and whole human being.
Make life easier wherever you can.
Life is already difficult all by itself, so make your life easier wherever you can.
One of the best examples of making your life easier is by making your morning routine easier. Find easier breakfast ideas that are equally nutritious and delicious, and easy to put together in the mornings. Or set up a “get ready” station that has your outfit for the next day laid out and all the things you might need right there to get ready in one organized spot.
Other areas of your life might also fall by the wayside when emotional baggage has you weighing heavy. It might help to think outside the box and find new ways to make that area of your life easier to handle.
Less is more.
Another thing that pulls us down into funks is being overwhelmed. Think about what overwhelms you and brainstorm how you might be able to simplify.
If you find yourself making 20+ step routines or making complicated rules to live by, then take a step back and try reevaluating. This obsession with personal steps, rules, and guidelines could actually be a symptom of your anxiety. You might be surprised by the relief you might feel if you let yourself let go a little more.
For instance, a symptom of my anxiety is to obsessively make lists, particularly to-do lists.
Develop your own “Calm Practices.”
In the episode of Brene Brown’s podcast, "Brene on Anxiety, Calm + Over/Under-Functioning," she talks about creating your own “calm practices.” A calm practice is something you do, whether internally or externally, to bring more calm and peace into your life.
An example of a calm practice might be the 5 things rule where you try and notice 5 things around you whenever you start to feel really panicked or sad:
Something you can touch, hear, see, smell, and taste.
This calm practice works well for many people because it helps ground you and keeps you from mentally spiraling.
A major part of what calm practices are meant to do is teach emotional regulation. Emotional regulation isn’t about not having emotions, but about successfully addressing your emotions so that you can move through them rather than stuffing them down or ignoring them where they’ll explode randomly later or eat you up inside slowly.
Another major part of developing calm practices is to replace other practices you might have that are actually unhealthy.
For example, I obsessively create lists. For the longest time, I thought this practice was a sign I was an organized and productive person. It wasn’t until recently that I realized how anxiety-inducing all my constant list-making actually was for me. Setting myself free from this “anti-calm practice” helped me to reach new levels of self-awareness and inner peace.
Look for “wins” instead of gratitude.
A really common practice is to “try and see the good in everything,” and to “look for things to be grateful for every day,” or to try and see the “blessings in disguise.”
Wrong. Not everything that happens in your life needs to be turned into a blessing or something to be grateful for. Brene Brown discusses this topic with David Kessler in her podcast episode, "David Kessler and Brene on Grief and Finding Meaning."
They suggest that instead of looking for ways to be always grateful, look for "wins." For instance, “I showered today” or “I made a homemade dinner” or “I got outside today” are all wins you can notice instead of trying to turn hardship into a blessing.
Something I’ve been trying lately is to take snapshots of “wins” or things that make me happy or that I know I like. For example, I just got a car and took a snapshot of my shoes today because I got to wear moccasins to work instead of having to wear sneakers to walk to work.
Build a network of support.
There’s a lot of evidence that people need people. We share experiences, we support each other, and we let each other vent. We need a support system to feel, well, supported!
But networking is easier to talk about than it is to do. Especially if you’re like me and socializing is definitely not your strong suit.
Start to build your own personal network of support by making a list of all the interests you have. Then, brainstorm some ways you could use your interests to get out more and meet other people.
For instance, I love to read, so creating or joining a local book club would be a great way to network with people who share my love of reading.
I also love to go on hikes and walks. I could create a local hiking group and even hire a local hiking guide to make regular hiking excursions with anyone in the neighborhood who might want to join me.
Once you start networking and gaining people you love to meet and talk to, make a schedule for reaching out to the people on your “network” list. Literally write on your calendar things like, “text Mary, call James, send a letter to Rachel, send a small gift to Jeffrey, plan a get together with Amy, or tag Ben on something funny online.” Making time for everyone can be hard, but it’s a lot less hard if you make plans for it.
Don’t be afraid to plan network gatherings that you’re comfortable with. Maybe you like to go out and do fun things, or maybe you like to stay home and relax. Plan gatherings with your network according to what you actually feel comfortable doing.
If that means planning a monthly movie night where you all stay in and enjoy the quiet, then go for it! Socializing doesn’t always have to be loud crowded parties in a new place each weekend. Socializing can be whatever you want it to be. As you grow to accept this, you’ll find other people who like to have fun the same way you do.
Examples of emotional tools and self-care.
Emotional tools are anything that helps you emotionally feel ok, feel calm, feel in control, or feel better about yourself and your life. Emotional tools help us to deal with both our emotions and our daily lives. Emotional tools can also be thought of as ways you personally like to practice self-care.
Self-care is anything that takes care of you externally or internally. It can be something that helps your body feel healthy, clean, and refreshed, or something that helps put you in a good mood.
30 Examples of Common Emotional Tools and Self-Care Practices:
Listen to music
Listen to podcasts
Listen to audiobooks
Write in a journal
Post an inspirational quote on your mirror
Do a good deed for someone else
Make your favorite home-cooked meal for yourself
Go for a swim
Sit in a jacuzzi
Visit a sauna
Make your bed
Tidy your bedroom
Talk to a friend
Write a letter to a penpal
Watch a happy or funny movie or TV show
Go out with friends
Start accumulating your own list of emotional tools and self-care practices. Don’t feel bad about needing moments to take care of yourself the same way you would take care of a loved one.
After all, we can’t take care of others if we aren’t taking care of ourselves.
Don't leave yourself unsupported and unprepared when an emotional emergency occurs. Just like when you prepare for other life emergencies, take some time to prepare emotional rollercoasters by getting together an emotional tool belt you know you can depend on.