Building an Emergency Self-Care Plan for the Bad Days


First of all, I want to let you know that I am not a mental health professional. I did, however, make a self-care plan with the help of my counselor. I’m also someone who has struggled with an anxiety disorder her entire life. I’m sharing my experience in the hopes that it might spark an idea for someone else facing similar struggles.


Do you ever wake up and just know it’s going to be a bad day? I’ve got an anxiety disorder, and sometimes it’s a mostly imperceptible whisper that doesn’t impact me at all. Other times it’s a roaring dragon that’s front and center from the moment I open my eyes. Those days, thankfully, have gotten farther apart, but that’s kind of its own problem.


See, part of my anxiety-ridden mind’s problem is that when things are going okay, it gets suspicious. I get anxiety about not having anxiety. Yes, I know that sounds ridiculous. Yes, I am completely serious.


When I talked over this feeling with my counselor, this sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop, this sense of never being able to just enjoy a success without wondering when the failure is coming, we made a plan.


I mean that literally. We mapped out an emergency self-care plan. It made me feel much better to not pretend like the good days would last forever. A bad day will come, but now I’m prepared, so I don’t have to stress out over when the dragon might rear its ugly head. Whether it’s tomorrow, two weeks from now, or eight months from now, I’m ready.


This emergency self-care plan is simple but effective, and I literally printed it out in easy-to-read, color-coded boxes. Here’s what it has:


The Green Box- Do These First

A traffic light with the green light lit
Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash


This is the box that contains the items I should do right away, as soon as I sense something is off. It contains some very basic self-care steps, like making sure I feed myself and my kids. Here are some of the items in my green box:


  • Brush teeth
  • Drink water
  • Give the kids food
  • Give the kids something to do (movie, puzzle, game)
  • Exercise (stretch, take a walk)
  • Listen to calm music


The Yellow Box-Do These Next

If I get through the green box, I’ve got my basic needs taken care of, and I get the sense of control of having gone through my plan. My next step is to start climbing out of my hole with some actions that will help me address the underlying causes of my anxiety. Usually, I get anxious when too much is piling up on me. Too many household chores to do. Too many work deadlines. Too many balls in the air. I try to consider them all at once, and I go into overload. So my next steps are to carefully, intentionally choose a few balls to get out of rotation. It includes simple, measurable steps to take:


  • Take a shower
  • Put on upbeat music
  • Do the dishes
  • Have kids clean up toys and clothes on floors
  • Play with kids
  • Spend one hour on any work projects due within 48 hours



A red flag on a beach
Photo by Seoyeon Choi on Unsplash


Just as important as making a plan for what I should do is making a plan for what not to do. I know what things will make my anxiety worse, but I have a tendency to do them anyway. I filled this list with those common mistakes as a warning from past me to future me to avoid the pitfalls:


  • Do not try to clean the whole house
  • Do not worry about anything more than two days away
  • Do not make any major decisions about work, schedule, or obligations to others


I’ve printed this whole self-care plan out (it fits on a single page), slipped it into a plastic sheet protector, and put it in the top drawer of my home office desk. It might seem overly simplistic, but in the moment, this is exactly the kind of straightforward focus I need, and it is often the difference between a day spent in overwhelmed despair and a day that helps make sure the next one is a little brighter.