"The heat of the moment," is just that; heated. When stress is high and you are overwhelmed by a big project at work, or up to your neck in scheduling therapy sessions and extracurriculars for your kids it can be hard to think straight. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance understand that your plate is full, and it most likely continues to fill up. In this heightened sense of stress, it is difficult to strategize what is going to help you relax or find relief. That is where an Emotional Safety Plan comes into place. This document is designed for you to make your mental health a priority.
The purpose of an "Emotional Safety Plan"
Here you can see our Emotional Safety Plan document. This document was created with the goal to help our families, parents, and caregivers make their mental health a priority. As parents, especially a parent of a child with a social, emotional, behavioral, or mental challenge, it can seem like everybody else comes before you. Your kiddos probably treat your snacks as fair game and sometimes your meals consist of room temperature mac and cheese and unwanted crusts. While sacrifice comes with the parenting territory it is okay and good to make your mental health a priority. "You can't help someone from a sinking boat," and it is imperative to yourself, your children, and your whole family that you are in tune with your own mental health. Think of all of the time you have spent scheduling therapy sessions for your children, worrying about their mental health, and talking to them about how important it is to check in with themselves. We are encouraging you to take a fraction of the time you spend focusing on your children's mental health to focus on your own.
An example of how it can help
The section on the right side of the document (in green) details what the intended purpose is of an Emotional Safety Plan, and how to use it. It starts out by saying that you are your least rational when things are very stressful. When you have reached your tipping point and a fight with your partner or an email from your boss sends you over the edge it is hard to even see straight let alone rationalize what is going to help you relax. At the moment where tensions are high, it is hard to think "Okay, I am stressed right now let me do things that calm me down, and then tackle this stressor with a level head.".That is where the Emotional Safety Plan comes into play.
On the left of the document, you can see where one parent; Hannah Clark, has already written down the things that help her relax. Clark is one of our members, and we asked her to sit down and think about what her go-to relaxation tasks are as an example of how to use the document. "My number one go-to is always making a cup of tea. It is something that requires me to physically get up from whatever is stressing me out (for example my work computer, or a family situation) and complete a simple mindless task that gets my body moving. Those 15 minutes where I have to gather everything together to boil the water, select a favorite cup, get the honey and select which tea I want allow me to concentrate on something else. With my tea made, my focus is drawn to the feel of the warm cup in my hand, the delightful smells coming from my steaming cup, peppermint, cinnamon, or lemon encourage me to take a deep breath, and watching those first whiffs of steam float away often encourage a few moments of daydreaming."
"If I do not have tea, or don't want it I try and get out my headphones and shut out the world for a minute." She explained that something about playing her favorite songs allows her to get her mind temporarily off of what is overwhelming her. No matter how stressful the situation is if she closes her eyes the rhythm can reenergize her and she can't help but sing along to words she has heard upwards of a million times. If the situation presented feels like it is too much to handle she might want to get a physical distance from what is stressing her out. A quick walk around the block provides fresh air and a chance to recenter before getting back to it. If listening to music on her walk doesn't help she will call a friend. Getting an outside perspective or just an ear to listen to you vent can be incredibly relaxing for Clark. Letting all of the thoughts in her head sit and fester usually makes things worse for her. A quick 5-minute call to her mom, her neighbor, or her cousin allows her to get all of her emotions out in a safe and loving place.
How YOU can use it
The things that calm you down are going to be different than what works for Clark. Maybe you hate tea and can't keep track of a pair of headphones to save your life. That is the beauty of the Emotional Safety Plan - it is unique to you. We have a printable version of the Emotional Safety Plan that does not feature Clark's personalized plan. Print this version out and sit down with your morning coffee, or after you put your kids to bed and create your own personalized plan. Fill it out with things that you think will work for you. Keep this somewhere that is easily accessible. Your fridge, your bedside table, your wallet; anywhere where you can get at it when you feel yourself getting stressed. That way when things start to get out of hand all you have to do is look at it and it will remind you that right now the thing that will help you the most is whatever is at the top of your list. Don't forget to review your plan often, adjust it as each season changes or as you add new stress-busting tools to your toolbox.
If you don't have access to a printer you can grab any piece of paper and write your list on it. The best part about an Emotional Safety Plan is its simplicity. All it requires you to do is write out the things that you believe will help you relax, even if it is on the notes app on your phone. Take time to help your future self cope with the stress that life will inevitably throw at you.
Our Emotional Safety Plan is one of our most popular tip sheets! We know that now more than ever people need to prioritize their emotional safety. If you benefited from creating an Emotional Safety Plan and would like to see more tip sheets from us consider supporting our work by becoming a donor here.