Making an Anxiety Safety Plan
Updated: Aug 24
When feelings of anxiety (such as being worried, afraid, or panicky) take over it can be difficult to think of what to do in those moments. Being prepared for the next time that we experience anxiety can help us cope when things become overwhelming. We have measures such as Evacuation Plans and First Aid Kits for times that we are in physical crisis – so why not do the same for when we are experiencing mental distress?
What is an Anxiety Safety Plan
An anxiety safety plan is a list of personal coping techniques and resources for reducing overwhelming feelings of anxiety. The plan lays out steps you can work through to bring your anxiety levels down. The plan typically consists of a combination of techniques for distraction, processing, and relaxation. There are plenty of free anxiety plan templates online to use as a guide, or you can write out your own.
The following are some common coping techniques that you could use in your plan or be inspired by to think of your own personal techniques.
Physical reactions to anxiety are important to address early on in an anxiety safety plan. Physical reactions such a shortness of breath, muscle tension, and dizziness can be scary and dangerous. Getting these physical reactions under control means that we are physically safe and can begin to concentrate on our mental distress. It is a good idea to include coping techniques that address your physical reactions to anxiety.
For example, if you experience shortness of breath when you become anxious then perhaps a breathing technique such as the 4-7-8 technique would be appropriate; this involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding for 7 seconds, and exhaling for 8 seconds. If you find you tend to experience muscle tension when anxious then you could try the progressive muscle relaxation technique; this is where you tighten and release groups of muscles as you breath slowly to help calm and relax the body. Whatever your physical reaction is finding a coping technique to make yourself safe and comfortable is important.
Grounding techniques help to calm and distract from physical reactions and intense thoughts and feelings that happen when we are feeling anxious. Grounding techniques can help by giving us something else to concentrate on instead of the way we are feeling and allow us to re-centre and ground ourselves.
An example of a grounding technique is the 54321 coping technique; this is where you acknowledge five things you see around you, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Working your way slowly through these can help you feel calmer and more grounded.
Other grounding techniques include Object Identification; where you pick an object in the room and describe it in detail as if telling someone who has never seen the object before. Meditation and mindfulness are also great options for grounding techniques. Grounding techniques help bring us back and acknowledge the environment around us and re-ground us.
Another step you could include in your anxiety safety plan is acknowledging how you are feeling. Once you grounded, acknowledging and then expressing those feeling can help reduce anxiety. There are several ways to acknowledge and express how you are feeling. Writing down or drawing about how you are feeling are great ways to recognise, reflect, and process the feelings you are experiencing. Writing and drawing can be a great release of emotions and can feel like you are unburdening yourself.
Another way of acknowledging how you feel and expressing thoughts and feelings is to talk it through with someone. Talking through what is happening for you in the moment and about the anxiety that you are feeling is a great way to recognise it and process it and therefore reduce those anxious feelings. Picking a trusted support person to have in your safety plan is a great resource for those moments you feel overwhelmed, it can be a good idea the give that person a copy of your safety plan. There are also the options of talking it through with a member of a counselling team on free services such as your local Lifeline.
· Get Active
Physical activity has several benefits for reducing anxiety and can be a great coping technique to include in your anxiety safety plan. Getting active reduces stress hormones and gives you endorphins resulting in a natural feel good boost. Physical activity such as going for a walk or a run outside also gets us into different environments and new spaces, allowing for new perspectives and head space. Even short walks around the garden or jumping jacks in the living room are great active coping techniques!
Relaxation is an important aspect to coping with anxiety. Activities such as warm showers, having a hot drink, listening to calming music, reading, or watching a favourite TV show all allow us to take a break and relax from the anxious thoughts and feelings we experience. Its important that after doing all the hard work to feel calm again that we maintain that calm with some relaxing activities.
Its important to include support resources in your anxiety safety plan that you can contact if you reach the end of your plan and you do not feel safe or want further support. This support can consist of family members, friends, support workers, health professionals etc. that you trust. You can also include the contact numbers of professional resources that you can also contact in these instances e.g. your doctor, your local crisis team etc.
So go ahead and individualise your safety plan. Try things out for how they feel. Change and adapt the ideas and techniques to what works for you. Perhaps you have something that already works for you that you would like to include? Write it down. Practice. Send a copy to a trusted loved one. Stick a copy on the back of the door of your safe space. Put it in your phone. This will help you be prepared for your next anxious moment and to cope when you begin to experience those thoughts and feelings.