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Safety Starts Here

Safety Starts Here

By Lauren Collins, Director of Pathways-Wichita

Life can be heavy. When we are not prepared for stressful events, it can feel like the event won.  Stress is all around us, whether it is wondering when the COVID suffering and discord will end, unexpected life events that drain the bank account, a distracted driver swerving into your lane, or preparing for the upcoming holiday season. When feeling stressed, we are more vulnerable to react to triggers –memories, experiences, or events that spark an intense emotional reaction regardless of our current mood. I’m sure you can relate; I have experienced a trigger and reacted to others, including my loved ones, in fear and distrust rather than responding to them with the love and consideration I desire to give and receive. The Safety Plan we use at Cornerstones of Care, taken from the Sanctuary Model of trauma-informed care, is a gift of emotional intelligence and emotion management that we can give to others.   

Sanctuary is an organizational trauma-informed care model that offers shared language, knowledge, and tools to heal from trauma. While we typically think of trauma as extreme events along the lines of war, serious accidents, and violent crimes, not all trauma is life-threatening. Trauma occurs when an event exceeds one’s capacity to cope. So trauma can happen with bullying, legal troubles, and infidelity, too, to name a few.

Sanctuary recognizes four parts to one’s safety – physical safety, emotional safety, social safety, and moral safety. Safety, in all of its parts, is the foundation of healing. That’s why we at Cornerstones of Care believe “Safety Starts Here.” 

Sanctuary offers many tools, including the S.E.L.F. Framework (Safety, Emotion Management, Loss, and Future) that we base our meeting structure on, Self-Care Plans, and Safety Plans. A Self-Care Plan is the long-term, preventative plan each team member creates that taps into our own personal values and interests and, in turn, feeds our soul. For example, reading a book each month, exercising three times a week, volunteering for a local nonprofit (like Cornerstones of Care), or spending quality time with a loved one.

The Safety Plan is a proactive short-term plan. This in-the-moment plan helps us respond to stressors and manage emotions that triggers evoke. A Safety Plan is a simple written document that identifies five healthy coping mechanisms that work specifically for that individual to help us remain in control of our actions and return to a place of homeostasis. Acknowledging your stressors/triggers offers a higher level of self-awareness. A higher level of self-awareness provides a higher level of emotional intelligence. A higher level of emotional intelligence offers a healthier level of emotional management, and a healthier level of emotional management maintains healthy boundaries and creates safety for yourself and others. You can create a Safety Plan by following this thinking process:

  • As the title reads, “Safety Starts Here.” How does this relate to you, and where is “here”? Here is me and you, where we are at in any given time.
  • There is power in the pause. Pause and ask yourself, “Where am I emotionally? Where am I psychologically? Where am I socially, with my connection to others? Where am I morally? Do I feel safe to be myself? Am I creating a safe environment for myself and others?” I challenge you to join me in pausing to reflect on where you are and what assistance you have in a heightened moment to help you stay in control and create a plan.
  • Our mind/body connection is strong, and how we respond to situations can be life-altering. What do you need to feel calm to make healthy judgment calls? When experiencing a trigger, our brain is wired to ensure survival at the most basic level, sending us to our protective state of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. When gifting yourself time to pause to assess and achieve that needed safety, your brain returns to function in a more rational state of mind.

Part of Sanctuary is recognizing that everyone has their own story. Holidays, for each of us, evoke a diverse array of feelings. Some of us anticipate the chatter and laughter of the extended family being entertained at their favorite uncle's house. At the same time, some of us dread facing the holidays alone, or worse, feeling alone at a full table. A Safety Plan is a formal practice, a gift to yourself and others, to remain in control, manage your emotions, and offering a safe place. 

My colleagues and I wear our Safety Plans at all times at work; however, I've adopted this practice at home, too. I've experienced significant gains with this tool. My plan may be similar to others, yet it is unique to what works for me. I appreciate nature, and being in my element helps me breathe deeper, relax, and reframe my perspective, so naturally, going outside to take a walk is on my Safety Plan. Wellness is essential to me; thus, taking a healthful lunch break helps center me. Silence is golden. If possible, I will briefly remove myself from all stimuli, close my eyes, breathe deeply, and regain balance. Truth is another powerhouse tool; as I speak truth to myself and the situation, I feel the anxious thoughts drift away. Although it is best to have action steps that you can achieve yourself, sometimes the support from a loved one is what is needed. If all else fails, I will call my husband, and hearing his comforting voice reminds me of the goal rather than getting distracted by unexpected barriers. I reevaluate my plan annually to confirm what I need is applied, as we are continually growing and changing.

Take five minutes right now and jot down five things that will help bring you peace in the moment. Keep that list somewhere accessible through this upcoming holiday season and beyond.

As I close, I want you to remember this. You are amazing! You are capable! You are appreciated!  We at Cornerstones of Care are forever grateful for your support. 

Cheers to a merry, bright, and safe holiday season!