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Healthy Coping and Safe Spaces

Healthy coping is being aware of your thoughts and emotions and intentionally implementing strategies to process them.

After a string of unfortunate student passings, Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs, Utah opened a Wellness Center to act as a stable ground for overwhelmed students. Westlake’s wellness center is complete with “soft lighting, nature sounds, healthy snacks, and an array of sensory activities.” While we may not each be able to build an additional room onto a house or apartment, some things can be done to create safe environments to escape to.

shadow of a female student leaning forward providing comfort to another student
Photo by Jaren Wilkey

In search of helpful tips and resources for coping and creating a safe space, we reached out to Kaelie Lemmon Wagner, a Ph.D. candidate in BYU’s Marriage and Family Therapy program. We asked Wagner what she recommended, and the following are her responses.

What does healthy coping look like? 

Healthy coping is being aware of one’s thoughts and emotions and then intentionally implementing strategies to help deal with and process the respective thoughts and emotions. The opposite of healthy coping is avoidance. A list of “healthy coping skills” could quickly turn into a list of “avoidance techniques” based on our ability to and intentionality of identifying and dealing with emotion.

What are “easy” things people can implement to help them in triggering situations?

First, take a deep breath! Notice what is going on in your physical body and try to identify what your body is trying to tell you. Do you need to take a break? Do you need more sleep, are you hungry, do you feel unsafe? If you are in a place or situation where you cannot take a nap, get a snack, or leave-  bilateral stimulation and progressive muscle relaxation are great options to help calm your body down enough to get through the difficult circumstance.

How can I create a safe space for myself?

Imagine that your emotions and accompanying physiological reactions are red flags trying to make you aware of your needs. Allow yourself to accept - and make enough room for - your emotions and identify what they are trying to tell you. Honor that realization by implementing your needs to the best of your ability in your current situation and using coping skills (see above) as needed.

What about for others? (as a teacher, parent, or friend?)

Take the time to make room for and allow other people’s emotions and unique experiences. Listen with genuine curiosity and show you care by providing support through the strengths that you have.

Kaelie Lemmon Wagner

Kaelie Lemmon Wagner received her bachelor's degree from Brigham Young University (BYU) in Family Studies. She completed her master's at Utah Valley University and is currently back at BYU obtaining a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy. Wagner has a background in crisis situations and behavioral therapy with children and teens.

In 2014, she began working in the medical field as both a Certified Nurse Assistant (CNA) and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Since then, Wagner has been working in trauma and crisis situations - recognizing the impact that the physiological body has on relationships and mental health. Her education and training have led her to have a deeper understanding of the cross-over of physical and mental health and the complexity of experience and thought processes, which influences her approach when working with clients.