Reading time: 8 minutesThe image shows the First Aid for Feelings Manual as a paperback version and how it shows on a tablet and a mobile phone


Practical manual for First Aid for Feelings – health activism in action

In December 2019 , we published a future-gazing blog Nailing the Helpful colours to the mast, boldly setting out the Helpful vision for the following four years. The goal: to go from supporting 340 people over four years to supporting 2460 people. 

This aspiration included running First Aid for Feelings workshops, writing the First Aid for Feelings Manual and launching the First Aid for Feelings course on the Insight Timer platform. Well, then the pandemic happened and some intense life events, including bereavements, house-moves, and the birth of twins in the family. 

So, how did we do? Well, as we describe below, we not only achieved our goal, we more than doubled it. Since December 2019 we’ve supported over 5000 people.  

And, what about the First Aid for Feelings Manual …?

Yes, with everything going on it’s taken longer to get to this point, but the time has come to share more about the long promised manual.  Let’s start  though, with a reminder about what feelings are and why self-care is essential to on-going good health for us all.

Feelings are information. If you don’t know what they mean, you suffer …

Do you take your feelings seriously? Do you know the cost of not taking your feelings seriously? I  haven’t always and, as I share later in this blog, the cost to me in terms of ill health and suffering was substantial. I know that I’m not alone in this experience. Maybe this is something you can relate to or someone dear to you has experienced.  

What is clear is that if you do not take your feelings seriously, you will, at some point, suffer. It may be in terms of your physical, mental, or social health (this is your social context and your ability to engage in social situations). It’s not uncommon for all three dimensions of health to be affected.


A venn diagram of three intersecting circles marked as physical, mental, social/emotional

The intensity of what’s going on for us and in the world 

And, let’s face it, in addition to your feelings about what’s going on in your  life, there’s so much  going on in wider society that we all need to know how to read and respond to our feelings. Escalating war and conflict, climate anxiety, and the cost of living crisis affect all of us in one way or another. The impact of unprocessed feelings about what’s going on is, for many, causing stress as well as amplifying pain, fatigue and anxiety.

Given the scope of  what you’re likely to be feeling, knowing how to read and respond to your feelings will make the difference between feeling like you’re going under or feeling strong and buoyant.  This ability to read and respond to your feelings is called emotional and health literacy. It is a key building block for self-care, which is the fundamental skill all of us need to sustain the best health possible for ourselves. 

Let’s look at the research

Countless studies show the detrimental impact of not knowing how to do self-care, or not being able to apply what you know. Whether it’s managing symptoms or embedding the lifestyle changes you know you need in order to feel better, if you’re not able to do it, you won’t feel better. It’s also known that there is a direct impact if you’re not able to deal with and recover from adverse childhood experiences. You’re at higher risk of …chronic disease such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes as well as mental illness and health risk behaviours’. And, Forbes magazine talks about the biggest trends in the workplace this year being burnout, anxiety, and depression. These are sobering statistics. 

Add to this the shocking revelation that children in the UK have the lowest happiness levels in Europe with a noted impact on health and wellbeing. Think about that for a moment. What are the implications of  our own inability to role-model good self-care skills  on  children in our lives? Think too about the impact of your parents’ ability to role-model  self-care and good health,  on you.

What about your personal experience?

So, that’s the research and statistics, but what about your personal experience? What do you notice about the impact of your ability to read and respond to your own feelings? How does it affect your ability to do self-care? What about your ability to care for your health? 

In January 2020 we held a one day event (referred to as Impactathon) about how to get people talking about feelings and why that’s important. The unanimous conclusion of everyone present was that when you’re not able to read and respond to your feelings:

  • Symptoms get worse and your health deteriorates  
  • Feelings and behaviours get worse and your health deteriorates
  • You’re more likely to fall out with family, friends, and colleagues
  • Money can become an issue

People recounted stories of relationships lost, careers faltering and ending, health deteriorating. Many had noticed that finances had spiralled out of control. Some felt they were limping along OK enough but feeling the burden of regret. One participant talked about regretting not living their life to the fullest. They described feeling like they were sleep-walking through life, with the occasional experience of joy to make it bearable. Many nodded in recognition.

How the First Aid for Feelings Manual is set up

We share such personal experiences in the First Aid for Feelings Manual (or, to give it its full title, First Aid for Feelings: The essential Manual for self-care skills and good health). In fact, each chapter starts by outlining someone’s story, and ends by telling it in full. In the pages between, we share the philosophy behind the tools and techniques and how to use them. There’s a practice section in each chapter where you then experiment with using the tools and techniques yourself. 

What you’ll learn

  • How understanding the purpose of feelings means you no longer get stuck and can respond to your feelings appropriately and move through them
  • How to know if you are struggling with your feelings, what your feelings are trying to tell you, and how you currently respond or react to your feelings
  • Your ABC for Feelings, a new technique which is just as important as the ABC (Airway, Breathing, Circulation) for medical first aid, and which will help you respond helpfully to your feelings
  • A way of thinking of the brain that will help you to see when the oldest part of your brain is in control. The part that is more primal and less rational. Knowing this creates the possibility for you to be kinder to yourself and more skilled with your feelings
  • How the practice of breathing mindfully helps to release stress and improves your ability to think more clearly
  • How taking time to learn what your feelings mean, and what they are communicating, gives you the clues and power to respond better to your feelings, and make more helpful choices towards what you actually want
  • Why, if you feel that you don’t have any choice, you are “crocodiling”. And how soothing your crocodile reconnects the part of your brain that can see and make choices
  • Why curiosity makes it easier to respond to intense feelings and take helpful action
  • How being kinder to yourself helps you be more skilful and compassionate with yourself, as well as with others
  • How to start building a First Aid Kit for Feelings and set yourself up well for whatever comes your way.

A review from Sue Beer EFT Founding Master: "Two decades of searching for palatable and practical book to help explain the mind-body connection has finally come to an end. Thor and Nicki have absolutely nailed it"

Why is the First Aid for Feelings Manual relevant to you?

Maybe you often feel engulfed by your feelings, even paralysed by the intensity that surges, seemingly without warning? Maybe you block or numb your feelings? Do you avoid facing your experience using work, food, drink, or even apparently helpful things like going to the gym or helping others? Maybe you feel like you’re heading in the right direction and want to upskill through learning why you have feelings and how to best respond to them so you feel better too? 

Whatever your  feeling style, or emotional and health literacy level, First Aid for Feelings can help in much the same way medical first aid can help with injuries or illness. Indeed, just like medical first aid, First Aid for Feelings is an essential and potentially life-saving rapid-response skill to have. 

The First Aid for Feelings Manual includes tools and techniques that help you read what’s going on for you and respond in constructive and helpful ways. It’s my experience that when we know how to apply this stuff everything is easier and better. And, it’s not only in terms of our self-relationship and health, but our relationships with others too. Let me share a little more about my story, and how I came to develop the First Aid for Feelings method.

Why I developed First Aid for Feelings in the first place

I developed First Aid for Feelings twenty years ago when I was ill with ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) and Fibromyalgia, and dealing with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress  Disorder (C-PTSD). Dealing with the intensity of these experiences, in addition to the associated complexities of being queer, transgender, and non-binary, was, at times, life-threatening. If I was going to survive, I knew I needed something practical and quick working to support me as I worked through the ‘bigger stuff’, which would inevitably take longer. 

Taking my inspiration from medical First Aid, I created the First Aid for Feelings method complete with its own ABC technique and First Aid Kit for Feelings. It worked. I was able to support myself and hold steady enough to work through my recovery. Since then, I’ve been, not only well, but buoyant, sturdy, and steadfast. Life still happens and it’s tough at times. The difference is that I know my First Aid for Feelings and use it regularly.

Once I recovered and completed my clinical training I specialised in  supporting people with pain, fatigue, stress, and anxiety. Realising the First Aid for Feelings method was helpful not just to me but to others too, I designed a one day workshop. The first one was held in 2013.

How many people have benefitted these last ten years?

  • More than 500 people have attended First Aid for Feelings workshops
  • More than 7,500 one-to-one sessions (including many ad-hoc sessions during COVID-19 lockdown) have been delivered
  • More than 2,500 people have signed up for the First Aid for Feelings 10-Day Meditation Course on the Insight Timer app. The course launched at the start of the COVID-19 lockdown and is consistently rated 4.7 out of 5 stars, with student numbers continuing to grow.

All in all, more than 5,000 people have benefitted from learning First Aid for Feelings to date. That’s more than double the aspiration set in 2019!

Once people have learnt First Aid for Feelings, the feedback is consistently the same, people feel more empowered, more able to do self-care and enjoy much improved self-relationships. People feel better.  

Quote from Caroline Bishop about the First Aid for Feelings course which reads: “It is more helpful to be curious than critical” is a wise phrase that I will be writing on a piece of paper and affixing to my bedroom wall above my work desk. This course deeply touched me and I think it will help me move through a feeling of being stuck in a moment of life, career, and health changes." And she gives the course five stars.

Health activism and the power of sharing knowledge and skills

It’s that ‘feeling better’ that’s at the heart of what we do. The Helpful Clinic is a social enterprise created around a social mission: ‘to improve health and well-being through increased health and emotional literacy’. In practical terms that means to help you feel better.

The First Aid for Feelings Manual is another method of sharing how to do this for yourself. It also means it’s easier to share the information and skills with others. The manuscript is now ready to go to print and I am setting the clinic a new aspiration. For the next four years, we aim to double our goal again, bringing First Aid for Feelings to 10,000 people. The First Aid for Feelings Manual will be essential in achieving that aspiration. And, we’re asking you to join in with our health activism and help make this resource available and accessible.

We’re asking you to champion First Aid for Feelings because when people  know how to do their First Aid for Feelings, their physical, mental, and social health improves. This matters. It obviously matters to you and your loved ones, but it also matters to each and everyone of us and society at large.

Health experts are calling for a systems shift

Health-care systems around the world are buckling. Research suggests that nearly half of all health burden in the USA is attributable to 84 modifiable risk factors. In the UK, a parliamentary publication revealed an ‘… estimate that 40% of the burden on health services in England may be preventable through action on the determinants of avoidable chronic conditions’. Health-care experts are  advocating for a whole system shift towards Self-Driven Healthcare (SDH), which is premised on self-care. To enable this, the first dedicated Self-Care Academic Research Unit (SCARU) has been set up at London Imperial College.  

This important research centre is led by Austen El-Osta. He says: ‘self-care is an act of kindness, and we should all come together to study, develop and scale access to self-care approaches and to what could help people live longer, happier and healthier lives.’ 

With such a shift  already in motion, there is a growing need for practical resources to help  people step into the driving seat of their own health; resources like the First Aid for Feelings Manual.

First Aid For Feelings has the potential to improve health outcomes for everyone

First Aid for Feelings, and the self-care central to Self-Driven Healthcare,  benefits not just you by putting you in the driving seat of your health and well-being. It has the potential to ease the burden on health-care systems, improving health outcomes for us all. And you can help. 

How can you help?

Writing and publishing a book is a substantial effort and it costs money, a fair amount of money. To help us through this last stage and to the point where you can hold your own copy in your hands, we’ve set up a crowdfunding campaign, starting today. 

You can get your own copy, as well as pledge to access rewards like Helpful mugs, wristbands, notebooks and, secure for yourself a place on the First Aid for Feelings workshop on January 6th.

A couple of orange mugs. One with the handle to the left with text reading: what are you thinking, feeling, doing? And the other with the handle to the right reading: is it helpful?

We’re also asking for your support to help us bring this information to libraries, and health-care professionals and health-care students. We’re making 50+ books available for this purpose. If you’d like to nominate a health-care professional / student or a library, we’d love to hear from you. We’ll send them the book with a covering letter offering support. 

This month it’s Health Literacy month. We’re starting the crowdfunding campaign by spotlighting this connection between feelings, self-care, and literacy, in particular health and emotional literacy. The crowdfunding campaign will run until Sunday, November 19th. That day marks the end of National Self-Care week here in the UK. 

How to find out more and get updates?

We’ll be sharing news and updates on what we’ll be doing during National Self-Care week in the Helpful newsletter. Look out for information about the Self-care Sunday webinar on the last day of that week, Sunday November 19th.  This year’s theme for the Self-Care week is the mind-body connection, which is, of course, what First Aid for Feelings is all about.

To find out more about the First Aid for Feelings Manual, how you can get your own copy and how you can help with the crowdfunding check out the First Aid for Feelings Manual: Help make it happen page



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Till next time, go gently, hold steady, and stay the course.

All the best, Thor