The legendary Greek philosopher Aristotle once said, “Man is by nature a social animal.” We are social beings and naturally seek companionship as part of our well-being. Our socialization starts at birth and continues until we reach adulthood. We socialize at school, work, and in public. Allowing us to develop and maintain relationships, gain new knowledge and skills, and become part of a larger community.
However, there are instances where we are exposed to unwanted environments which may affect our sense of security. It is essential to surround ourselves with positive and supportive individuals and take care of our mental well-being to maintain a healthy balance in our social lives. Thus enters what we call a “safe space.”
From the Oxford Dictionary, it generally means “a place or environment where a person or group of people can feel confident and secure from any harm or criticism.” A safe space is free of judgment where people can express themselves freely without fear of prejudice.
Some might think of safe spaces as a location or a room where people convene and communicate. However, safe spaces are not limited to physical locations. They can be a community of similar values, consistently providing support and maintaining a respectful environment.
According to research by Moira Kenney, “safe spaces” were first seen as an idea by the LGBT community in the mid-60s to 70s and were used by women as a means of coming together. Now safe spaces have evolved into movements and advocacies, giving way to creating safe spaces at university campuses, work, and home.
PURPOSE AND IMPORTANCE OF SAFE SPACES
Safe spaces may vary from person to person. It differs based on an individual’s situation and environment and is defined by one’s perception of safety.
Though safe spaces may differ for each individual, their purpose stays the same. To provide individuals a break from unsolicited opinions, bias, discrimination, and criticism from the outside world. It is an avenue to relax, recharge, and be yourself.
When individuals feel safe, it allows them to grow, learn, and express themselves without fear of judgment or harm. Safe spaces provide a sense of security and belonging, promoting self-esteem and self-expression.
HOW SAFE SPACES IMPROVE MENTAL HEALTH
Safe spaces can help improve mental health in many ways. They can do the following:
- Allow you to be vulnerable and open. After all, being on your guard for long periods can be taxing. When inside your safe space, you can leave negativity at the door. Having a place where you can be yourself can help you feel relaxed and calm, which is beneficial for people feeling overwhelmed or experiencing high stress.
- Serve as areas for healing and growth. Safe spaces can give you opportunities to explore and process your experiences, thoughts, and emotions. It can also allow you to learn new coping skills and strategies for dealing with mental health issues.
- Promote self-care and mindfulness practices. Safe spaces can provide access to activities that protect physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Examples may include yoga, meditation, or tai chi, which can benefit individuals experiencing anxiety. These practices can help you stay present at the moment and reduce worry and fear.
- Provide a sense of community. Having a community you belong to allows you access to support and validation, which helps reduce feelings of isolation or disconnect. A positive community can help you build healthy social connections. Some examples of communities are support groups, professional organizations, and affinity groups.
- Enable you to build resilience. Since safe spaces encourage healthy discussions and supportive relationships with peers, individuals are likely to develop resilience. Resilience is the ability to cope with adversity and bounce back from difficult situations. It can positively impact an individual’s coping ability.
CREATING A SAFE SPACE
When I think of my safe space, I always picture my apartment. It is a place where I can go to destress, enjoy my hobbies, and recuperate before returning to the real world. Spending ample time in my safe space allows me to perform and interact better outside. Creating your own safe space can positively impact you and can be a great way to care for your mental well-being.
A safe space for yourself
Imagine a sanctuary where you can escape and be free to be yourself without judgment or fear. That’s what a safe space for yourself can be.
You can transform your room into a physical sanctuary where you perform activities that bring you enjoyment and relaxation. You can incorporate elements that give you peace and happiness, such as pictures of your family, calming music, or greeneries, to elevate the ambiance of your space.
A safe space for yourself can also be in the form of allowing yourself to be vulnerable and make mistakes. Acknowledge your weaknesses but also celebrate your strengths and wins. Learning to do so can help you be comfortable in your skin and feel safer wherever you are.
A safe space in the community
Finding a group of people you can relate to and open up with can be challenging. When finding a safe space in the community, you can start with groups you share a common interest with. It may be a community for one of your hobbies like art or music, your profession, or even your favorite people to spend time with. You can arrange regular meet-ups, get together often, and enjoy activities that promote peaceful self-improvement. Your community can be an added emotional support in your life.
If you feel that your community may not understand your situation, seeking support from a mental health professional can effectively help manage your well-being. A professional can provide you with a safe and confidential space to talk about your feelings and experiences and help you develop coping skills and strategies for dealing with difficult situations.
A safe space online
Social media may not be your first choice when creating a safe space, but it can be a great source of support when you’re conscious of who you connect to and open up with. As with a physically safe space, online spaces are considered safe when you can express yourself without fear of judgment and criticism. Thus, avoiding negative and stressful groups can help create a safe online space. Instead, focus on finding groups that promote wellness, positivity, and fun. This can be a great way to connect with like-minded individuals and find support and inspiration for personal growth and self-care.
Safe spaces play a vital role in improving mental health by providing a sense of security and belonging, promoting self-esteem and self-expression, and allowing growth, healing, and community. Finding and creating safe spaces can positively impact your mental well-being, whether it be a physical sanctuary in your home, a supportive community, or an online space.
Let me end with a quote from artist and writer Ashley Bryan, “Having a safe space to imagine and dream and (re)invent yourself is the first step to being happy and successful, whatever road you choose to pursue.”
Kenney, M. 2001.