20 Items I Keep in My Self-Care Kit That Help With My Chronic Pain and Mental Health
Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.
I’m of the belief that everyone needs a self-care kit custom-tailored to them. I have PTSD, anxiety, depression, as well as hypermobility issues causing pain and stiffness, early-onset osteoarthritis, a herniated disc, sciatica, bursitis, tendonitis and a slew of other intertwined illnesses that often leave me sitting in bed, unable to function. That being said, for me, a self-care kit means including things that help with chronic pain as well as mental health. When I’m having a rough day (which, honestly, is more often than not), I have my self-care kit close by to help ease the pain and suffering that comes with my medical conditions. Here’s a list of the top 20 things in my personal self-care kit that I hope inspires you to create your own:
1. Doctor-prescribed medications
“Take your pills!” is a common phrase in my household, especially since my three roommates and I are all on the broad spectrum of disability. Finding the right meds and the right dose came very difficult to me. I’ve been on almost 30 different meds over the last 10 years. Needless to say, it was not an easy task finding what worked for me. And to be honest, I’m not 100 percent gung-ho about the cocktail I’m on currently, but it beats life without them. Taking my meds is important to me because when I’m not on my meds things can get out of hand really quick: I cry for no reason, I cry for too many reasons, I get horrendous nightmares, I’m irritable, anxious, depressed, exhausted and in pain. And that’s the tip of the iceberg. Taking my meds is my first line of defense against these symptoms. I always carry a day or two’s worth of pills in my bag just in case I stay over at a friend or family member’s house, or some other emergency arises.
Pain relief can come in various forms. I try not to take too many of these guys, but when I can’t take that pounding four-hour headache anymore and I just need to fall asleep because it’s 3 a.m… well, then I take an over-the-counter pain relief medication to help dull the pain.
As someone who has had low Vitamin D and B12 levels, it is important for me to take a Vitamin D supplement and a bioavailable Vitamin B Complex supplement. I also take a multivitamin. Multivitamins are a surefire way to make sure I’m getting the bare minimum – which is a good thing because sometimes I’m too exhausted to make myself food, or too depressed to even get out of bed. A multivitamin keeps me in check and makes sure I’m not (too) malnourished.
4. Good food and a full water bottle
A good self-care kit has to have a snack in it somewhere! But it’s worth mentioning that not all snacks are created equally. I’ve put on weight in the last three years eating too much of things like chocolate and cookies. Fresh fruit and veggies are at the forefront for me now instead – especially since I get depressive episodes and can’t get my butt out of bed. Blueberries, strawberries, bananas, apple slices with cinnamon, cucumber, broccoli, bell peppers, walnuts, almonds and yogurt all make really tasty treats. And don’t forget to drink your water!
My chronic-illness warrior of a roommate recently introduced me to the world of Biofreeze. I immediately went to Amazon and ordered myself a huge 32 oz. pump bottle of it because it was amazing. I can’t believe there was a time I existed without it. Biofreeze is a colorless topical analgesic that smells somewhat like Vick’s VapoRub. With its 5 percent menthol content, it gently tingles the skin, taking pain levels from unreal to manageable. It is suitable for use on the back, shoulders, neck, legs, hips, hands and feet, and is great for pain management for muscle and joint pain associated with arthritis, strains, sprains and then some. If my physiotherapist uses it in their office, then it’s gotta be the good stuff, right?! I keep a mini travel bottle with me in my bag at all times when I’m out of the house or expecting a sleepover of some kind.
6. TENS machine (at home)
A few years ago, my doctor sent me to a physiotherapist who used ultrasound therapy as well as a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS machine) therapy on my knees. Fast forward a few years, and again, the chronic warrior goddess of a roommate that I have enlightened me to the fact that at-home TENS machines are a thing. For the cost of one physical therapy session, I had my very own TENS machine, all to myself. The machine, run by battery power, uses electric current to stimulate the nerves for therapeutic purposes – and can actually block your nerves from sending information to your brain that registers pain. The device works on backs, shoulders, necks, legs and hips.
7. Aromatherapy, essential oils
I’m fairly sensitive to most scents, but the few I can handle like pine, orange, frankincense and lavender offer me a great deal of stress relief. I often tell my partner to “ignite my senses” as a cue to put on some aromatherapy for me. Aromatherapy is great for relaxation, stress, managing pain, improving sleep quality and depression.
8. Heating pads and electric blankets
I’ve used heating pads for years. They’re great for muscle pain relief from the neck and shoulders, to the lower back and even the knees. They’re also a great tool if you get horrid dysmenorrhea (excruciating period cramps) like I do. Just don’t fall asleep with it on. Similar to heating pads, electric blankets are great for cozying up with – especially if you have a low body temperature.
9. Ice packs
Not only nice on a hot day, ice packs are key for eyes that have swollen from too much crying as well as for areas of your body that are injured that you’re trying prevent from swelling and bruising. Ice packs can be purchased anywhere – and most things in the freezer can substitute as an ice pack (like a bag of peas, or my favorite, spoons!).
10. Epsom salts in a hot bath
Although I struggle to find the energy to take showers or baths on a regular basis (sometimes I go a week or more because of my depressive nature), baths can be very soothing to the aching body. They’re also great for reliving stress and tension. Turn off the lights, light some candles, and kick back. I like to use a cup of epsom salts in my bath, along with a few drops of essential oils and a teaspoon of coconut oil.
11. Ergonomic back rest
I used to think these were for older people but I’ve since changed my mind. I have two – one in the car, one in the house. Because of my hypermobility I tend to slouch. A good ergonomic back rest allows me to sit in a chair comfortably while helping correct my posture. It makes driving a car that much more bearable and sitting in a chair for extended periods somewhat tolerable.
12. Therapeutic braces
When I wake up in the morning I often feel like I’ve been hit by a car. My whole body aches from head to toe. My knees give out when I take a go at the stairs and my shoulders easily subluxate (partially dislocate). I’m lucky if I make it a week without one of my ankles rolling. That’s why I’ve got braces for my knees, wrists and ankles – to help stabilize my joints. I am currently on the hunt for a good quality double-shoulder brace as well as a back brace.
Photophobia makes my eyes dry and itchy, gives me headaches, and makes me exhausted. I’ve found myself absolutely drained after even just 10 minutes out in the bright sun. I find a pair of broad-spectrum, polarized sunglasses do the trick and help me exist outside of the house.
14. Sleeping eye mask
As much as photophobia makes me exhausted, it also means I have a hard time sleeping with any amount of light showing. My eye mask allows me to take naps during the day when I just can’t bear the fatigue any longer and helps me get to sleep at night.
15. Noise-cancelling ear plugs
Hyperacusis is a hearing disorder characterized by a collapsed tolerance to usual environmental sound. For me that translates to being over-stimulated by regular everyday traffic, the dull sound of a fan, a lawn mower off in the distance, the sudden ring of a phone, even music on the radio! People use noise-cancelling ear plugs during certain activities such as when firing a gun, or when going to sleep. For me, I sometimes use my plugs all day to stop the hum and buzz of the everyday. This helps me from feeling hyper-aroused by stimuli and helps me stop being so hypervigilant (a.k.a. “jumpy”), easily irritated and angered.
16. Dental night guard
If you’re anything like me, you hold a lot of tension in your jaw and as a result grind your teeth while you sleep. Over the years, my dentist has pointed out to me that I have actually grinded my teeth flat, ad have come close to completely needing reconstruction of my teeth. My dental night guard protects my teeth and my overall health.
17. Cannabis-infused massage oil
OK, so this one might not exactly be accessible to most people. I have my medical marijuana license, so I have the freedom of ordering quality green and making my own infused oil. But legalization is on its way to Canada and has started to spread across the USA. Dispensaries are opening up everywhere. I say to you: get yourself some cannabis-infused massage oil if you’re in pain. It won’t cure you, but it is so relaxing. And it doesn’t break the brain-blood barrier, so you won’t get “high.”
18. An outlet
No, not an electrical outlet, but some type of creative outlet. I’m talking about writing, making music or art. There’s no better feeling than that when you’ve created something – at least for me. It helps me feel more accomplished in my day if I create something, even just a doodle. While I forget to do this last one more often than not, it is still a great coping mechanism I keep in my proverbial tool kit.
19. Yoga mat and towel
Light exercise is good no matter what state you are in physically or mentally. I like yoga because it can be as gentle or as vigorous as I want it to be, it works on my breathing, my patience, my balance and my strength. It also allows me time to meditate and clear my mind of all the negative stuff floating around in there. And as we all know, exercise releases endorphins in the body that make you happy – blah blah blah, you get the picture. Often, I find I don’t have the energy to do much, but if I get to do even a few light stretches in bed, that makes me happy.
20. My journal, some pens and markers, computer and phone
I cannot say this enough – record your symptoms in a journal. I don’t care how you do it – use an app (I’ve used Symple), keep an online journal or a word document on your computer or use a good old-fashioned pen and paper – just do it! Recording my symptoms and how I’ve dealt with them has been an essential to my healthcare team in treating and diagnosing me with my plethora of health problems. An example entry would read: “Jan 2nd @ 3:30 p.m., pain level 6 in my knees. Used acetaminophen, my TENS machine and some Biofreeze to control the pain.” It would also be handy to keep a copy of a comparative pain scale so that you can show your doctors or caretakers what you mean when you say “level 6 pain.” I found a handy one online by googling “comparative pain scale” under images.
Getty Image by Alxnsk