It’s hard enough to handle stress without facing the judgment of others. Unfortunately, some people who belong to vulnerable populations, may not always be able to heal and relieve stress in peace.
To resolve trauma and relieve stress, people need to feel that they are safe and that they are free to be themselves and share their feelings without fear of judgment or retaliation. To provide this sense of social safety, many people create “safe spaces” dedicated to inclusiveness and respect.
These environments aim to relieve the stress that members of marginalized groups may endure on a day-to-day basis, providing time and space to decompress and find support from like-minded individuals.
According to the United Nations, developing safe spaces is especially important for young people, women, LGBTQ individuals, migrants and people living in conflict zones. Providing socially safe environments is so important that the UN has made it an essential part of their Goal 11 for sustainable cities and communities.
The impact a safe environment can have on the lives of vulnerable individuals is apparent. Being able to share your feelings and experiences with a trusted group of people can remove the perception that you have to manage stress entirely on your own.
If you’re looking for new ways to help yourself or others with stress, joining a designated safe place might be a good idea. However, if you’re planning on developing a group yourself, there are a few things you should keep in mind so that the space can be as helpful as possible.
Provide Safety in Numbers
If you’re going to include a diverse array of people in your space, you want to make sure no one feels singled out. If there is only one person of color or one transgender person in your group, for example, they may be less likely to interact and have a positive experience.
To ensure that everyone feels comfortable, try to make sure all your members share a similar background with at least one other person in the room. Though you don’t need to develop a buddy system, it can be helpful to create safety through numbers.
The point of a safe space or support group is not necessarily to talk but rather to listen. Of course, sharing feelings can be cathartic. But talking can only really be helpful if there’s someone around to listen.
Everyone wants to be heard. To make your group as positive as possible for those who attend, you need to make sure that listening is a top priority. Avoid interrupting people while they’re talking and practice active listening by using attentive body language and asking polite questions.
If your group is concerned with issues outside your realm of experience, invite more knowledgeable people to speak at meetings and focus on listening rather than giving your take on the topic.
Though groups can certainly help relieve the stress of coping with issues alone, some group settings may become unhealthy if you aren’t careful. Other people’s stress and negative energy when shared excessively can adversely affect your mental health.
When you first start your group, establish clear boundaries. For example, you might limit the amount of time spent on certain topics, ask members to provide a warning before they discuss things that might trigger another persons’ trauma or make sure members feel free to leave the room at any time.
Remember that there are some issues peers can’t handle effectively. As with any stressful situation, try coping methods but seek professional help if you need it and remember that it’s okay to take a break from your group if you think it’s necessary.
Similarly, be sure to refer other members to a trusted mental health provider if you suspect such help is needed.
Figuring out how to handle stress can be difficult, but you don’t have to do it alone. By following these guidelines, you can create an environment that is safe for both you and others and offers relief from anxieties and stress.
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