Today, we’re going to talk you through making a self-harm safety plan and share some pro tips, but remember — the key to making a plan work is making it work for YOU, because different things are gonna work for different people. Your plan will evolve from start to finish, but in the end, it’ll be tailored to fit you and your needs perfectly.
It’s important to remember that self-harm is a coping strategy, just like meditation or exercise — simply a way for people to cope with a bigger issue, release intense emotions, and ultimately find a way to move on with life in the face of severe turmoil. A self-harm safety plan can help protect you from harm when you’re feeling like a risk to yourself.
Understanding the connection between how you’re feeling — angry, sad, numb, anxious — and the coping strategies you use is key to creating a safety plan that works for you. When we use coping strategies based on what we feel in that moment, it can help those strategies work more efficiently, and helps us implement positive alternatives to self-harm.
You’ve likely heard us blather on about this in other posts, but we can’t over-emphasize how helpful it can be to keep track of how you feel both on the good days and the bad. When we consciously label our feelings, we can separate them out and understand them better, which allows us to help ourselves more efficiently.
In your self-harm safety plan you’ll include a list of coping strategies that you know work for you — but it’s helpful to realize that not every strategy fits every emotion. For example, colouring may really help when you’re anxious, as a way to keep your brain and hands occupied, but it may not be the right choice when you’re angry. You might want to try something a bit stronger in those instances — a cold shower, or screaming into a pillow, or punching something soft — to release that pent-up frustration and tension.
Every safety plan is different, and it’s all about what works for you. Now, it may take some troubleshooting before you really feel like you’ve got a handle on what works, and your safety plan will probably change over time. It’s important to remember that we’re all human, and we’re all just trying to figure out what helps us get through each day, so eventually we can have fewer bad days.
Something to try: When you start to recognise these nuances in your emotions, you can actively prepare for different scenarios in your safety plan. It might be helpful for you to see your coping strategies written out, with the different emotions written next to them, making it easier to decide what to do in the moment.
A safety plan is a document you put together to help you remember your options for support, coping strategies, and people and places you can trust if you’re feeling like you’re a risk to yourself. Things to include on your safety plan could be:
There is no wrong way to make a plan, so long as you tailor it to your needs. Write it down, save it in your phone, and discuss it with someone you trust — this way, you’ll remember it when you need it most. Safety plans are unique to each individual, but they don’t have to be private — in fact, sharing your plan with people you trust can help keep you accountable, and can help the people around you understand what you’re going through and how to best help you.
Something to try: start your own self-harm safety plan by following this template. Once you feel like you’ve got a grasp on the purpose it should serve, you can personalise your plan to specifically fit your needs, and so you really connect to it and remember it.
Below, we’ve filled in our self-harm safety plan as an example of the sort of thing you could put on yours, but it’s important to remember that this plan is for you. There’s no right or wrong answers, and it’s going to be unique to you and your situation.
Coping strategies are also unique to each individual, so it is super important to try different things until you find something that really clicks for you. For a massive list of coping strategies you can try, head on over to the Things To Try page on our website.
Here are a few coping strategies that could work when you’re feeling anxious, sad, or overwhelmed:
Here are some coping strategies that can help if you’re feeling angry, out of control, or frustrated:
For an extensive list of resources, click here, or find the ‘Help Me’ button in the top right corner of our website. Just like coping strategies are unique to the person, there are options for support that are unique to certain age groups and concerns.
Discussing your safety plan with a trusted friend, teacher, counselor, parent, or GP can help it stick in your mind better, and can also help you feel less alone when dealing with these intense emotions. It’s important to talk about your plan not only when you’re feeling crummy, but also when you’re feeling good, so you remember the plan not as something negative, but as something that can help you get control of the situation so you can have fewer bad days in the long run. Just in the same way talking through your feelings out loud can help you rationalise them, talking about your feelings with people you trust can help you recognise the support system you have around you — this helps us better appreciate the people in our lives.
Everyone around you is just trying their best to make it through each day, no matter their individual struggles, so there’s no reason to be ashamed about your own. Creating a plan, making it work for you, and sharing it with your friends and family is the first step to helping yourself implement more positive coping strategies, but keep in mind that nothing is perfect the first time around.
You may find that your plan goes through several different versions before you feel like it really works every time the way you need it to, but that’s okay! All that means is you’re getting to know yourself, paying attention to your physical and mental boundaries, and are putting in the work for yourself. And that’s a heck of a lot to be proud of!
You’re not alone, and you can do this — one step at a time.