As an advocate, and as a parent, you are often faced with difficult situations and choices. Sometimes all the pain and suffering around us becomes overwhelming. One way to help you combat the overwhelm and stay regulated is by using a personal safety plan. Keep reading to learn what a personal safety plan is, how to use it and how to create your own quickly and easily.
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What is a personal safety plan?
You will often hear about personal safety plans in trauma-informed spaces.
A personal safety plan is a plan to help someone calm down and signal to their brain that they are safe after being triggered.
When we are experiencing trauma or intense stress, our brains are unable to think critically. Therefore, in the heat of the moment, you won’t be able to decide what you need to help yourself calm down and feel better.
A safety plan is a premade list of ideas that you can turn to when you know you have been triggered.
What is trauma?
Trauma is an emotional reaction to an event. When someone experiences a crisis that causes them to feel threatened or in danger, their body responds emotionally and physically to protect the person. After the event is over, the person’s brain is sometimes unable to register the fact that the event is over. The body continues to experience symptoms of trauma long after the event itself has ceased.
Please note, the event itself does not dictate whether the event is traumatic or not- the person’s reaction and how that memory is stored in the brain does.
Even the most horrific of events, if a person receives the supports necessary to tell their brain that the traumatic event has ended, like a quality support system full of caring people and a safety plan to help guide their brain back to calm, can be registered as a difficult situation instead of a traumatic situation.
What does trauma do to your brain?
The amygdala is the part of your brain that helps you react to danger and stress. When someone experiences trauma, their amygdalae become over-activated. This means they are constantly on high alert. When you are in the midst of a stressful situation, your body sends cortisol to your brain to activate your fight for flight response. Once the moment is over, your brain should send another shot of cortisol to let you know it’s now safe. In situations your body registers as traumatic, the second shot of cortisol never comes and the danger never ends (in your mind). Therefore, you cannot fully calm down without outside help like a personal safety plan, supportive people or even therapy.
What is a trigger?
A trigger is something that makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. It can be a sound, smell, or event that brings up memories of a specific traumatic event or just a general sense of unease. Sometimes we may not know exactly what our triggers are but notice the aftermath of them, the physical symptoms that follow.
Triggers can sometimes cause flashbacks, moments where a person physically and emotionally relives a traumatic experience.
It is helpful to identify what your triggers are so that you can implement your personal safety plan as a preventative measure, or avoid those situations altogether, but it is not 100% necessary. The most important factor is to know the physical symptoms of being triggered within your own body and be able to respond to them to signal to your brain that you are, in fact, safe.
What happens after you are triggered?
The physical response is different for everyone. Some people experience nausea, hyperventilating or shaking. Others may feel frozen and unable to move as they relive the original traumatic situation in their mind.
Other times the reaction is more subtle, a nagging feeling of danger, a deep desire to leave the situation, anxiety, or intense stress.
Whatever your personal physical response is, it can be scary and overwhelming- but important to remember that this reaction is not something you should be ashamed of!
You can learn to overcome and deal with your triggers. They don’t have to control you. A personal safety plan is one of the tools that can help you get there.
What should a personal safety plan include?
A safety plan should include ideas of ways you can calm yourself down when you begin to feel upset, overwhelmed, or triggered.
You may need different safety plans for different situations. For example, you could have one for work, one for home, and one for social outings.
You may have access to different tools to help you calm down depending on where you are and what you can do.
If you’d like a little more guidance, Sandra Bloom, one of the first people I heard about the idea of a personal safety plan from, has a wonderful video that explains step-by-step what your safety plan should include.
We also have a free workbook with printable templates and ideas you can use to create your own safety plan.
How to write a personal safety plan
- Explore what situations, sounds, smells or experiences make you feel unsafe.
- Think about where, inside your body, you feel stress, fear, anxiety or other intense emotions.
- Brainstorm certain activities that bring you a sense of calm or joy. (If you need ideas, download our free safety plan/self-care plan workbook.)
- List 2-3 things that you can easily do to help self-regulate when you are feeling upset.
- Write them down on a notecard, or the safety plan template.
How to Use Your Safety Plan
- Carry your safety plan with you, or keep it nearby, so that you can see it when you are upset.
- Eventually, you may be able to retrain your brain to revert to your safety plan automatically. Until then, look at your safety plan each time you feel overwhelmed by emotion.
- Tell others about your safety plan. As I mentioned before, when you are upset you can’t think critically. It will be helpful to have others around you who can remind you to revert to your pre-planned, healthy coping skills.
Personal Safety Plans for Kids
Young kids who cannot yet write or read will not be able to write out a safety plan. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t need one.
For young kids, you can use images to help them choose what will make them feel better in the moment.
Giving kids choices is a great way to help difficult situations become bad memories instead of traumatic memories. Giving them choices helps kids, and adults, feel a sense of control. Loss of control is one of the key elements in traumatic situations.
To learn more, and find free templates, for creating a personal safety plan with kids, read this post.
Examples of Personal Safety Plans At Work
You want your safety plan to have 3-4 simple things you can do when feeling upset in any situation. Since you may not have the freedom to leave the room or take a long break, here are five simple things you could do to calm down when feeling upset at work:
- Zone out
- Walk to the bathroom
- Listen to music
- Play with a fidget
Examples of Personal Safety Plans At School
School is very similar to work in that you are limited as to what you can do and where you can go. It is important for teachers to understand children’s specific needs. Since not all schools are trauma-informed, as a parent, it is your job to help advocate for your child and help him or her learn to advocate for themselves.
The best case scenario is that there is already a procedure in place for children who are feeling overwhelmed or frustrated and a safe place for them to go. If there is not, here are a few more simple ideas you, or your child, you implement at school without being disruptive:
- Sit near a safe person.
- Imagine a calm, safe place.
- Take deep breaths.
- Tap your foot or on your leg.
- Fidget with your pencil.
Examples of Personal Safety Plans At Home
Hopefully, at home you have a little more freedom to take care of your emotional needs in whatever way feels most fitting to you. It is also important to take preventative measures and take care of your emotional health on a regular basis. If you don’t have a self-care plan in place already, the workbook can help you create that as well.
There are millions of things you can, hopefully, do at home to help yourself feel safe when triggered. Here are just a few ideas:
- Take a walk
- Drink cold water or tea
- Take a bubble bath
- Light a candle or diffuse essential oils
Examples of Personal Safety Plans In Social Situations
In social situations, the options you have available will be even different than what you have at work, school or at home. Therefore, it is important to consider what is feasible for as many situations as possible. For social situations we will stick with things you should have on your person of can do internally to feel safe.
- Take deep breaths
- Repeat a mantra (I am safe. I am OK. I am loved. etc.)
- Have a code word or signal (If you are going somewhere with a friend or loved one, have a plan in place to let the other person know you are feeling unsafe and need to leave the room or leave altogether.)
Examples of Personal Safety Plans for Social Media
Social media can be a dangerous place. Obviously, you should know how to keep yourself physically safe online but it is just as important to know how to keep yourself emotionally safe:
- Log off
- Unfollow/block people who make you feel unsafe
- Intentionally follow people who will fill your feed with positive messages
- Take regular breaks from technology
How to Create a Personal Safety Plan in 10 Minutes or Less
- Download our free Safety/Self-Care Plan Workbook
- Use the huge list of ideas to help you brainstorm what might work for you.
- Jot them down on one of the pre-made templates.
- Take it with you wherever you go while you re-train your brain and learn to stay calm in tense situations.
We all deal with stress, fear, overwhelm, and likely even trauma. That means that everyone needs a safety plan to help them stay regulated in tough situations. Safety plans are simple and easy to create and can be used anywhere in any situation. So, download your copy of the safety plan workbook and create your safety plan today.