Safety Planning

Safety Planning is a fancy way of saying planning ahead with your support network when you anticipate something bad happening in the near future. For instance, if you always get harassed walking down the same street, you could plan to have a friend walk with you. Alternatively, you could plan to call them for support if something happens, and they'd plan to have their phone on. Having a plan, even if you don't end up needing it, can make nearly any situation feel more manageable.

The core components of a safety plan are:

  • What is the anticipated event, critical moment, or conversation, etc?
  • What are the things you can anticipate needing during this event?
  • Who can help support these needs and how?[1-2]

Thinking through these questions is a good way to plan your coping in advance. So as an example, here's an actual safety plan I used a while back:

  • What is the anticipated event, critical moment, conversation, etc.

"I have a scary medical appointment coming up. I might get too anxious the night before, and end up canceling or not going to the appointment. "

  • What are the needs you can anticipate during this event?

"Something calming and a reminder that going to the appointment is worth it"

  • Who can help support these needs and how?

"Oh, if a friend hung out with me the night before and we did something calming it could keep me from getting anxious. I can think of a couple friends who might do that."

This really did help me and I did make it to the appointment with minimal distress. I've used this strategy a lot in my life, both to handle my own problems, and to help my friends and loved ones prepare for their problems. Whenever someone comes to me panicking about something that hasn't happened yet, I always ask "Do you want to make a plan?" [2]

Tips for Safety Planning

  • When someone asks you for support, follow their lead. Don't try to take everything into your own hands, or make it about you and how helpful you're being. Don’t impose your ideas about how to be supportive, ask them how they would like to be supported.
  • If you don't feel able to help, be honest about it and help find an alternative. "I can't help you, but have you tried asking this other person?"
  • Ask for support, don't demand it. Don't assume someone is or isn't able and/or willing to help.
  • It's okay to need support after having just supported another person! You can even incorporate this into your plan. [1]

The examples I've used are pretty small-scale. The good people over at the Audre Lorde Project developed safety planning as a way to handle community-wide issues without relying upon government assistance, which isn't always very trustworthy when it comes to handling issues in communities of color. I highly recommend reading their articles, Breaking Isolation; Self Care and Community Care Tools for our People, if you want to try employing this strategy on a larger scale in your community.

Planning By Yourself

If you don't have a support network that you can make plans with, or if you can't think of ways that other people could help, making a plan just for yourself can still be very useful for reducing anxiety and being more effective in the moment.

Coping Ahead is the name of this skill. It's really quite similar to community safety planning. Imagine the upcoming event that you expect will be stressful or difficult. Think, ahead of time, about what you can do to cope with that situation. Imagine the scenario happening, and then imagine yourself coping with it. You can rehearse the plan so you remember to do it in the moment, or you can try writing it down somewhere and looking at the plan when the moment comes. Don't rehearse so much that you're just ruminating and stressing yourself out. When you're settled with your plan, go do something relaxing since planning like this can get stressful. [3-4]

[1]Audre Lorde Project. (n.d.). Breaking Isolation; Self Care and Community Care Tools for our People. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from

[2]Elliott Fukui. (2014, February). Safety Planning for [trans] Solidarity. Workshop presented at the ASK for Social Justice Conference, Amherst, MA.

Arianna Rose. (2014, April). Safety Planning for Healing and Wellness [pamphlet]. Hampshire College Wellness Center. This pamphlet was based on the Safety Planning for [trans] Solidarity workshop and was used for reference purposes.

[3] Linehan, M. (2015a). DBT skills training handouts and worksheets (Second edition). New York: The Guilford Press.

[4] Linehan, M. (2015b). DBT skills training manual (Second edition). New York: The Guilford Press.