How to Create a Safety Plan
A safety plan is a critical tool for anyone with a history of addiction, emotional or physical self-harm, or dangerous spontaneity. By creating a set of actions that you will take in certain situations, you can give yourself and your loved ones some peace of mind. These are highly personalized and can either be a mental checklist or physically listed on paper or an app.
What is a Safety Plan?
A safety plan is a preventative measure designed to ensure your safety during instances where you are overwhelmed or triggered and feel the urge to do anything that might be unhealthy for you. If you reach a point where you feel compelled to act in a way that would endanger you physically or emotionally, then you would use your prepared safety plan to avoid that outcome. Each step involves a coping tool to keep you in control of the situation.
Who Needs a Safety Plan?
Safety plans can be designed to cater to a wide range of circumstances. People who most commonly utilize this tool include anyone who has experienced the following:
- Suicidal ideation
- PTSD and trauma-related dissociation
- Panic or anxiety attacks
- Dangerous impulsivity
- Abusive situations or relationships, including sexual or physical abuse
- Manic or paranoid behavior
Examples of a Healthy Safety Plan
Safety plans are built-in distinct, segmented steps, making it easy to adjust them as needed. There are repeated self-check-in points where you must determine if the issue is resolved or if you need to move down to the next step in the list.
A primary characteristic of a safety plan is that it is highly tailored to the individual’s needs. That means you can use the outline of someone else’s as a template, but you should change it to fit you and your life. The example below was designed for someone with PTSD and a history of self-harm.
- Contact a trusted love one or crisis chat when feeling overwhelmed or experiencing intrusive thoughts of self-harm.
- Begin deep breathing and mindfulness exercises when triggered or feeling panicked.
- Get to a safe location and wait for a loved one if you are experiencing compulsions to self-harm.
- Call 9-1-1 if you feel unable to control your actions or if you sincerely believe you may hurt yourself or others.
It can help to have something like the following on hand:
- Self-harm reduction app like Calm Harm
- Emergency numbers saved into your phone, including a local or national crisis line or crisis chat
- A physical or digital form of your safety plan that you can reference in times of heightened stress
- A public place you can go if you need to wait for a long bed one to come help you
- Easily accessible healthy distractions like a playlist of funny or cute videos, coloring books, or a game
How to Set Up a Self Check-In
You should be appraising your mental and physical state multiple times throughout the day when you are feeling stressed, anxious, or uncomfortable. These are quick and only take a few seconds of self-reflection. If you find yourself triggered or experiencing intrusive thoughts, go through your version of the following check-in:
- Ask yourself, “Am I in danger of becoming overwhelmed? Am I having thoughts of doing something that could hurt me physically or mentally?” This check-in should happen whenever you are experiencing unwanted thoughts or behaviors.
- If you answer “yes” to the above question, then it is time to implement the first step in your safety plan.
You can work with your therapist to find the best check-in wording and to figure out a spectrum of responses and how you should react to them. For example, if you feel incredibly anxious and do not have any active thoughts about harming yourself, but you have a history of taking part in spontaneous dangerous activities. You may need to monitor yourself closely.
Incorporating Your Support System Into the Safety Plan
Your sponsor, sober peers, friends, and family can all help you implement your safety plan. You never have to tell anyone about it, but the more people who are aware of your triggers and strategy, the easier it will be to get help when you need it. By ensuring they are aware of how you intend to deal with the situation, it can provide you with peace of mind as well. The entire plan should not rest on your shoulders alone. You should make sure people closest to you understand the best way they can support your plan.
We all need help sometimes. You may have previously experienced a traumatic trigger or been forced to face an overwhelming situation on your own. Make sure you are prepared for the next difficult time by designing a safety plan that you can implement in moments of high stress. Safety plans are known to lower the risk of relapse, self-harm, and trauma responses like dissociation. Keep yours up to date and make sure you have several contingencies. Let the people you trust know about them so that they can help you implement your plans if you ever need the extra support. We understand that using proactive tools can keep you safe, and at Everlast Recovery Centers, your health and safety are our highest priority. We can help you create responses to whatever situations you may encounter. To find out more about our services, reach out to Everlast Recovery Centers by calling us at (866) 338-6925.