Another Skill for the Toolbox: Life Saver Cards

February 25th, 2013

Earlier in the week, Faith wrote about how affirmations and inspirational quotes help her combat onslaughts of negative thought. It reminded me of a recreational therapy activity that I did years ago at Mercy Hospital, where affirmations were integrated into a distress tolerance tool, “Life Saver Cards.”

The experiential learning aspect of recreational therapy has always appealed to me. Even at my most stubborn and resistant moments as an adolescent inpatient, the recreational therapist was almost always able to help me engage in treatment. Recreational therapy gave me at least one thing to look forward to on the schedule every day, whether a therapeutic outing, open studio time, a movement group, or other creative activity.

Life Saver Cards SuppliesWhat I love about making Life Saver Cards is that it forces you to carve out little bit of time to focus on some key areas of managing distress: support network, recovery motivations, positive reminders, alternative coping options, inspirational quotes & affirmations. Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m losing my mind,” when they were stressed? This activity will give you a tangible index of recovery reminders that you can tuck away in your purse, backpack, or briefcase to draw from when needed.


Blank note cards, pens and markers, stickers, hole puncher, & piece of yarn or hemp. I made my own notecards out of cardstock, but you can find a variety of options in the office supply section of a store.

Topic # 1: My support network

Front:  The front of the first card will become the “cover” of your deck of life saver cards. If you are feeling creative, have fun with decorating it with a doodle or some fun stickers.

Back:   On the back of the first card, write down at least 5 people who make up your support system. Think about your friends, family, sponsor, and treatment team.  Make sure to only include those helpful to you when you need support and include their contact information, whether a phone number or email address. If you have a smart phone, it might be a good idea to program their contact info while you are at it.

Topic # 2: My Motivations

While there is no doubt the eating disorder has served some sort of purpose for you, there has also a breaking point that lead you to seek out recovery. Brainstorm all of the reasons why you choose to heal. Use this card as a reminder during times when you forget why you are fighting so hard for your recovery.

Front:   Positive reasons – What does/will recovery give me?  How does/will it improve my life?

  1. I want to be able to start a family and have healthy relationships
  2. I want freedom from the thin trap so I can reclaim my true beauty
  3. I will have the energy to achieve my fullest potential serving others

Back:    Negative reasons – What does my eating disorder take away from my life?  In what ways is it harmful to me?

  1. Giving into the eating disorder will take away the confidence I have worked so hard to build.
  2. Lying about my behaviors will lead to the loss of trust from my friends and family.
  3. There are more important things to spend my time on than worrying about food.

Topic # 3: Positively positive

Front: Write a prompt on the front of the card that inspires positive focus. You will make several cards, one for each prompt you choose. When the negative thinking reel runs wild, it can be hard to pause and consider what is good without a nudge in that direction. Here are some prompts to get you started. Choose the ones that you believe will be most helpful to you when you need encouragement and feel free to come up with a few of your own.

  1. I look forward to…
  2. One day, I know I will…
  3. I appreciate…
  4. I deserve…
  5. I can always laugh when…
  6. Something that can always make me smile is…
  7. My greatest strengths are…
  8. I love…

Back: On the back of each positively positive card, complete the sentence on the front. For example, if the front of the card said, “I love….” I would write, “Peanut (my dog), my family, my friends, chocolate, ocean breeze, yoga…”

The idea is to be able to take the card when you need to reframe the mind to a lighter place and answer the prompt without looking on the back. However, if you are having a particularly hard time, you will have several reminders on the back to help boost your train of thought.

Topic # 4: Alternative Coping & Behaviors

Include a variety of options when listing alternative coping behaviors. Sometimes we need calm and quiet in solitude where other times we might need distraction and company.

Take a walk         enjoy a candlelight bath              incense or aromatherapy             hold an ice cube                   eat with a buddy            creative journaling          listen to a meditation or visualization         practice yoga                     go to a movie                     coffee shop or bookstore            call a friend

Topic # 5: Inspirational Quotes

Select 3-5 of your favorite quotes that inspire your forward movement in recovery. When selecting the quotes, choose those that truly make your mind’s heart and heart’s mind smile!

“Not all of us do great things. But, we can do small things with great love!”– Mother Theresa.  It’s a gentle reminder that we can all contribute to the greater good with very basic gestures. It gives me a doable sense of compassionate purpose even in those darkest moments. We do not always have to go above and beyond, for there is great beauty in simplicity, too! This is a really helpful quote when feeling a sense of inadequacy.

Other quotes I love include:

“Many of life’s failures are experienced by people who did not realize how close they were to success  when they gave up.” –Thomas Edison.

“When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.” –African Proverb

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” –Howard Thurman

Assemble your deck of cards

Once you have all of your cards together, you can take the hole-puncher and punch a hole in the upper left corner of all of the cards.  Then, loop the string through the stack of cards and tie into a knot. Keep your Life Saver Cards nearby during those rough times. You will have several resources you came up with for overcoming urges right at your fingertips.

~ Heather, Guest Blogwriter

Leave a Reply

7 × = forty nine