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A ‘Comfort Folder’ is a Brilliant Self-Soothing Tool for Trauma: Here’s How to Make One

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A couple of weeks ago, my phone sent me a message telling me I was out of storage. I panicked, so I Googled how to clean up my phone to get some storage back. I followed the instructions which involved getting rid of some apps and uninstalling/reinstalling others. In the process of doing this, I lost some texts, DMs, and photos that I had saved. My heart sank. I frantically searched for ways to restore these messages and photos but there was no way to retrieve them. This sent me into a downward spiral of depression

• What is PTSD?

You see… I kept these messages and photos for a specific reason. They were like my security blankets, my anchors on my worst mental health days. Those moments, hours, or days where I feel like nobody likes me, I’m a burden, I can’t do anything right, and I don’t even know what my purpose is in life. Moments my brain has me convinced that I am alone and can’t (or shouldn’t) rely on anyone. When my inner voice is beating me up and telling me lies. I could look at those texts or messages or photos and they’d kind of pull me back into reality, if only momentarily, to remind me that none of what my brain and mental illness were telling me was true. And now… they were gone.  

When I mentioned to a friend that I save messages and photos to look at to feel better, he said he did the same thing. I felt a little bit of relief knowing I wasn’t the only one who did this, because for a hot second I felt kind of ashamed that I needed these reminders, like maybe there was something pathological about it. This friend immediately sent me a new message with a note reminding me that he cares about me, that I’m awesome, and that I’m loved. That instantly made me feel better. 

As I slowly began repopulating my phone with new messages and photos to comfort myself, I decided to ask my therapist about her thoughts on this behavior. She told me that this was a really brilliant self-soothing coping strategy. Being able to emotionally regulate yourself is an important part of healing from trauma and figuring out healthy ways to do this for yourself is critical. Creating “comfort folders” or collecting items, objects, or physical mementos that can help anchor you when you feel triggered is a tremendously powerful tool in a trauma survivor’s toolbox. 

Ever since that moment, I have doubled down on my efforts to rebuild my catalog of comfort messages and photos. Life has been turbulent enough the last few years and providing myself with the support necessary to help me get through those tough times feels like the most adaptive act of self-care I could engage in. If you are thinking of creating a “comfort folder” or “comfort space,” consider a couple of the following ideas:

1. Collect supportive messages.

Ask your closest and most trusted family and friends to send you a text or message with something they love about you or value about your relationship

2. Collect comforting photos.

Create a folder of photos that make you smile or transport you to a moment in your life where you felt pure joy and safety.

3. Frame a collage on your wall.

Create a collage of photos and notes that you can frame and hang on the wall. I have one I titled my “Happy Board” that I have hanging just above my bed, that I can look at and give myself a good hit of dopamine before I go to sleep.

4. Fill a corkboard with anything that reminds you that you’re loved.

Take a corkboard and hang it up. Then, fill the board with handwritten notes, photos, or other memorabilia that remind you of your trusted loved ones and things that bring you pleasure. Mine has everything from ornaments to necklaces to ticket stubs from concerts I have gone to.

5. Start a collection with the help of your loved ones.

I began collecting stuffed sloths a few years ago. Once the collection started, friends and family began gifting me stuffed sloths and now my collection includes almost 30 sloths. Not only are they physical, tangible items that I can touch and hold to help self-soothe… each one reminds me of the person who gave it to me which helps me remember that I’m loved and cared for. 

6. Create a comfort playlist.

We all know that music has the powerful capacity to affect our mood. Creating a playlist of songs that help us feel good, safe, and happy is a brilliant way to quickly pull us out of a funk. 

All of these ideas help to accomplish the same end goal. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family to participate. Those who truly love you will be happy to send you words of affirmation (which happens to be my love language). And don’t hold yourself back from tapping into your playful inner child self. Be creative, let yourself feel giddy, and allow your unfiltered/uncensored side out. This is all for you and not for anyone else so there’s nothing to hide, no rules, and no socially acceptable norms that you have to adhere to. Sometimes, you might not be able to connect physically with someone who can comfort and soothe you. These “comfort ideas” might just be the next best thing. 

Originally published: April 8, 2022
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