By Sam Guthrie, Americorps Mental Health First Aid Training Fellow
During the holiday season, life’s stressors can often feel amplified. In fact, research on seasonal affective disorder (SAD) suggests that declining daylight hours and colder temperatures during winter can lead to an increase in mental health struggles and suicidal thoughts. Thus, a safety plan serves as a valuable strategy to successfully navigate these challenging times. Whether you’re grappling with stress, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues, a mental health safety plan can be your lifeline offering the crucial tools you need.
A safety plan serves a two-fold purpose: to prevent escalating crises and to provide a structured approach during times of need. By involving your support system and providing critical guidance, it promotes empowerment and resilience.
Here are eight key steps to help you craft a comprehensive mental health safety plan:
1. Identify Triggers and Warning Signs
Start by listing the situations or events that trigger stress, anxiety, or depression for you. Also, recognize the warning signs that indicate your mental health is deteriorating. This might include changes in sleep patterns, appetite, or mood.
2. List Coping Strategies
Identify healthy coping mechanisms that work for you. These could include deep breathing exercises, mindfulness, physical activity, or creative outlets. Ensure that your list is diverse and includes strategies you can implement in various situations, like alone or with a loved one.
3. Reach Out to Your Support Network
Create a list of people you can turn to for support. Include their contact information, and let them know they are part of your safety plan. Discuss your plan with them so they understand how to assist you effectively. It is helpful to communicate what type of support you would like or what has been helpful to you in the past.
4. Establish a Crisis Contact
Designate someone as your crisis contact. This should be a trusted person who can help you in moments of severe distress. Share your crisis contact’s information with your support network.
5. Create a Safe Environment
Identify safe spaces where you can go when you need to remove yourself from a triggering situation. Ensure these spaces are accessible and known to your support network.
6. Develop a Self-Care Routine
Craft a daily or weekly self-care routine that promotes your mental well-being. This may involve activities such as meditation, exercise, journaling, volunteering, or spending time with loved ones. Find something that is realistic for you and fits into your routine.
7. Plan for Professional Help
If necessary, outline steps to seek professional help. This could involve contacting a therapist, counselor, or crisis hotline. Ensure you have their contact information readily available. A great resource is 9-8-8, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline that can be contacted via phone call, chat, or text.
8. Revisit and Update Regularly
Your mental health safety plan is not static. Revisit and update it as needed, especially if your triggers, warning signs, or support network change. Starting a new job, moving, or changes in important relationships can all be reasons to update your safety plan.
A mental health safety plan empowers you to take control of your well-being and ensures you have a lifeline to hold onto during tough times. By identifying triggers, developing coping strategies, involving your support network, and regularly revisiting your plan, you can navigate life’s ups and downs with greater resilience and confidence. Remember, you don’t have to go through it alone, and there is help and hope available.