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Psychological First Aid and Calming Strategies For Crisis

by Jessica Waters, M.A., M.P.S., M.C.P., N.L.C.


In the days, weeks and months to come we will be stretched in many different ways that most of us can't even begin to imagine yet. For some of us, it's hard to even believe this is happening and denial runs deep about what scenarios they are talking about in each news conference. In thinking forward, what will we need to help each other, our families, neighbors and communities get through all this, even ourselves, I want to suggest that you do two things (besides stock up on supplies and medications).


First, take this free Psychological First Aid Online Course from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network. You will use it, some of it anyway, in the months to come when dealing with yourself, your kids, your family... everyone. Here's the Apple device app and the Android app .


The second is to create a calming toolbox for you and your kids/family. Calming tools and strategies for kids look like this:


  • a favorite stuffed animal

  • candle breathing (inhale and slowly blow out the candle)

  • hot coco breathing (inhale and slowly blow on the imaginary hot coco to cool it)

  • ball breathing (inhale as you make a ball expand with your hands and exhale while contracting it)

  • slime, putty, play dough, clay, molding wax

  • pipe cleaners, cotton balls, pieces of felt (anything soft)

  • crayons, colored pencils or makers with paper for scribbling out anger and anxiety, color pages and drawing

  • slinkies

  • glitter bottles (empty water bottles full of colored water and glitter)

  • squishies, sponges and stress balls

  • 3-4 yoga moves and print pictures of them to help them (Teacher's Pay Teachers and Kids Yoga Stories have some great resources for this), GoNoodle movement, running, wall push ups, walking, jumping and dancing.

  • make or get a worry doll (easy to make--clothespin, markers and yarn)


I suggest getting an old shoe box or something and putting all the physical calming tools in there. You or you and your child, can decorate it with collage, paint, positive quotes and images that make you happy and calm.


For yourself, I suggest coming up with a list, box, note, something that holds your calming tools. Adult calming strategies include:

  • breath work (inhale for 4, hold 2 and exhale for 7) The exhale has to be long to calm.

  • using an app like Calm, Mindfulness Coach from the VA (free), Let's Meditate, Calm, Insight Timer

  • choosing a positive affirmation or mantra to go to when you are anxious, afraid or upset and repeating it over and over

  • talking a walk, a run, doing some stretches, some yoga posts, Tai Chi or Qi Gong moves, etc

  • changing into a comfy sweater, hoodie, sweats

  • using a weighted blanket

  • taking a hot shower or bath

  • picking a playlist that's soothing and listening to it

  • engaging in repetitive motion creative work like coloring, sewing, quilting, crocheting

  • making a cup of hot tea or coffee

  • visualizing a different outcome or a the outcome you want to have happen, a calm place, a candle flame.


Grounding Exercises get you back into your body when you have too much anxiety, worry or anger. They are simple to do.

  • Name it to tame it--name the emotion or issue, breathe into it and then let it go

  • Rub your hands together like you are trying to warm them up and press your feet down into the floor or earth, wiggling your toes.

  • Get a drink of water.

  • Clinch your fists together for the count of 10 then release. Repeat it 3-5 times.

  • Continue clinching and releasing throughout different parts of your body for the count of 10.

  • Take two breaths. Name one thing you can see. Look for 3 details in that item. Name one thing you can hear. Name one thing you can touch. Name one thing you can smell.

  • 5,4,3,2,1 is a variation of the grounding tool that I just shared. It is described below.


Practice these strategies and tools and use them when you feel yourself getting anxious or angry and also to recover from when you are anxious or angry. These work in recovering from a panic attack as well. Be mindful, take care of your inner being as well as your outer.





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