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Self-Care Plans vs Safety Plans: Yes, You Need Both

Every now and then this joke circulates social media: “I don’t struggle with depression… like at this point, I have it down. I’m good at depression.”

As someone who lives with chronic depression, that always makes me laugh. While I suppose if I was “good” at depression, I’d be out of it by now, there is still valuable truth in this comedic statement. Depression, like many other mental illnesses, is a sneaky beast. It likes to creep up unexpectedly, throw you off and hit you out of nowhere. I know that all too well. But I’ve also learned, while I can’t necessarily predict when my anxiety or depression or trauma will decide to overwhelm me, I can do my best to prepare for it.

I know that can sound strange. Prepare for bad days, bad moments — why would I want to anticipate those? I want to live my life, I don’t want to constantly be waiting for the other shoe to drop. I get that, but I would argue by doing some “prep work,” it can actually have the opposite effect. By having a plan in place for those tough mental health days, it can help ease that fear of expecting the worst, because you know if/when it happens, you’re prepared.

I know, personally, this planning has helped me tremendously. When I’m at my worst mentally, I often don’t even have the energy to think about what I could possibly do to help myself. That’s why, when I was feeling a little better than usual, I made these plans — so in my darkest moments, I have things I can turn to that will keep me safe and help me through those storms.

I have two main “mental health” plans: a self-care plan and a safety plan. My self-care plan is what I turn to when I’m just having a particularly bad day, can’t find energy or can feel myself starting to let things slip through the cracks. My safety plan is a little different. As someone who also lives with chronic suicidal ideation and has attempted suicide multiple times, this is the plan I turn to when I’m feeling like I might be getting to a point where I can’t keep myself safe. Because suicidal thoughts fall on such a spectrum, when you might need to access this plan is going to be different for everyone. I truly believe anyone who experiences suicidal thoughts to any degree should have a safety plan.

Check out To Write Love on Her Arm’s Safety Plan template here.

So, how do you make one of these plans? Each plan is going to be individual to you, but here are some general tips when thinking about creating self-care and safety plans.

When you’re creating your self-care plan, keep these questions in mind:

  • What relaxes me?
  • What gives me energy?
  • What can I do right now to help myself? (This may be taking a nap or it may be something like going to hang out with a friend.)
  • Have I eaten or drank any water recently?
  • Have I showered today?
  • Have I moved my body today?
  • Who can I reach out to for support?
  • What are some things I need to hear right now? (I like to write out a few mantras I can read for when I’m just in my head too much.)
  • What absolutely needs to be done today vs what can I set aside to do later so I can do what’s best for me right now?
  • What would you like to tell the you who is hurting? (Leave a note for yourself!)

My self-care plan is broken into what I can do for myself physically, socially, mentally and spiritually, but it’s totally up to you in how you want to design yours — get creative!

My safety plan looks a little different because I know if I’m pulling that out, I really need some concrete things I can turn to in that moment. Some things may overlap from the self-care plan, but the essence of each is different. Consider the following questions when creating a safety plan for when you’re suicidal:

  • What are warning signs I might be feeling suicidal or getting worse?
  • What professionals/helplines can I contact and what are their numbers? (Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Crisis Textline, To Write Love on Her Arm’s resource page, etc.)
  • What can I do to help myself cope right now?
  • Who can I turn to to help distract me?
  • What are some social settings or places I can go where I’ll feel better?
  • Who are people I can ask for help? (Include their phone numbers!)
  • How can I make my environment safe?
  • Why do I want to keep living? What in my life is driving me to keep going?

**If you’re feeling particularly up for the challenge, I actually enjoyed creating a safety kit. I have my safety plan in there, texts I’ve written down from friends that encourage me, Bible verses that help me, quotes I’ve printed out. I actually have letters I’ve written to myself, filled with reminders of truth because I know how loud the lies get when I’m feeling like this. Just another thing to have in place for when you’re feeling suicidal.

When you’re finished, take a picture in case you don’t have access to the physical plan when you need it. Feel free to share it with family, friends, therapists, etc. so they can support you through this. It also might put them at ease a bit knowing that you do have a plan in place when you’re feeling suicidal.

At the end of the day, whether it’s a self-care plan, safety plan or both, I would encourage you to make one, or at least think about what you would include in one. Regardless of diagnoses or other labels, you deserve self-care and you deserve to feel safe. You deserve to have these plans in place on the hard days. You deserve gentleness and grace in those moments. You deserve love and comfort. There is no qualifier or prerequisite for these things. Your existence is enough. Your presence is enough. You, yourself, right now, are deserving and enough.

Photo by Taisiia Stupak on Unsplash