"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 rationalize what is going to help you get out of it. 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 do a task that relaxes me. Those 15 minutes where I have to get everything together to boil the water and select which tea I want allows me to focus on something else. After making the tea I can drink it, which is a soothing experience for me, and then take a look at what was stressing me out, hopefully from a place of calmness.
"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. Clark often pairs her second and fourth tasks together. If the situation presented to her feels like it is almost too much to handle she might want to get a physical distance from what is stressing her out. A quick walk around the block gives her fresh air and a chance to recenter before getting back to it. When she is not listening to music on her walk she will call a friend. Getting an outside perspective or just an ear to listen to you vent can be incredibly relaxing to 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 think about what your plan is. Fill it out with things that 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.
If you don't have access to a printer just grab any piece of paper and write your list down on it. The best part about an Emotional Safety Plan is the simplicity of it. All it requires you to do is write out the things that relax you, even if it is on the notes app on your phone. Take this time to help your future self cope with the stress that life will inevitably throw at you.
To get the ball rolling tell us what is at the top of your list. Either answer us with a video, an audio message or in text and tell us what the number one thing is that helps you relax. We would love to hear from you! After that, you are well on your way to creating your very own Emotional Safety Plan. Either print out our printable version linked here or find any piece of paper that you can and get your ideas down. Don't forget to refine and update your plan as necessary. Your future self will thank you.