Welcome to Worry-Less Wednesdays!
We have gotten through these unchartered waters together, building bridges and forging connections with our families, students, colleagues, and friends. We have learned much about ourselves in the process. Many feel that this time gave us an opportunity to recommit to our core values. Whatever your personal journey is, we hope that you were able to Worry Less. You are resilient, and together we will continue to move forward as a team.
How Overachievement Can Mask Childhood Trauma(Originally titled “The Trauma We Don’t See”) Marshall Memo 838 May 25, 2020
In this Educational Leadership article, educator/activist Deena Simmons remembers that when she was in third grade, she was so terrified by gunshots exploding close to the windows of her family’s one-bedroom apartment that she threw up every night. Through a lot of hard work in school, Simmons graduated with honors and has excelled professionally, “but underneath it all,” she says, “I am still on my healing journey, still putting myself back together. Through self-work and support, I have learned that my trauma manifests in my overachievement – and the resulting lack of sleep – because overworking is something I can control.”
With many children, toxic stress produces anxiety, depression, health problems, acting out, dropping out, drug abuse, and more. The fact that some do well despite horrific conditions is puzzling, and Simmons wonders how many students repressing trauma need more support. “Too often,” she says, “the trauma of high achievers, especially those of color, goes unrecognized because their achievements are sometimes mistaken for resilience. While some of us may be excelling thanks to having a caring adult and other supports in our lives, the scars of our past remain, and we are still in need of care, love, and healing.” Educators need to connect with all students, she concludes, and not assume that the shining stars are invulnerable. And of course, schools need to be run in ways that do not add to trauma. “The Trauma We Don’t See” by Dena Simmons in Educational Leadership May 2020 (Vol. 77, #8, pp. 88-89)
Building our Resilience Toolkit
Step 1: Build Your Connections
We all need support in life, not just in a crisis. Building a support network of empathetic and compassionate people helps you feel less alone in times of need. Use your phone, computer, or a tablet to connect!
Older adults Some older adults are comfortable with technology. If this is the case, many churches, synagogues, and other religious houses of worship are live streaming services and creating groups on platforms like Zoom. Video chats with friends and family can help with those connections. If older adults are not comfortable with technology, phone calls and letters are essential. Send photographs and homemade pictures.
Adults Juggling working from home, handling finances, parenting, and distance learning is difficult and does not leave a lot of time for connecting with other adults. This is particularly true for first responders and other essential workers working long hours. Make time for video chats to “see” other people and join virtual meetups when you can. While the exhaustion of stress might trick you into thinking that isolating yourself is best, feeling supported by your friends will help you through this difficult time. Dance, play games, sing, pray together virtually.
Children and teens Balance is always important, but now is the time to err on the side of allowing more digital connections so kids can maintain friendships. Some parental supervision may still be necessary, but all age groups can benefit from connecting with friends, family, and classmates they have not been able to see in person for a while.
Step 2: Learn Coping Skills
We all need to hone our coping skills during this crisis so that we can work through the emotional shifts we are likely to experience in an adaptive way. There are a few coping strategies that tend to work across age groups.
Deep breathing Deep breathing helps calm the central nervous system and works whether you’re experiencing symptoms of panic or general discomfort. Try square breathing: Trace a square in your palm and count as you draw each line: Inhale, two, three, four; hold, two, three, four; exhale, two, three, four; hold, two, three, four.
Meditation and visualization A number of apps can assist with getting into the habit of clearing your mind of stress and visualizing positive outcomes, such as Calm for adults and teens, and Stop, Breathe, Think Kids for little ones. Head space is another good app.
Exercise Daily exercise is a natural stress reliever. Get out for walks or try a livestream exercise class.
Step 3: Adjust Your Thought Process
It is difficult to maintain an optimistic outlook when the future feels so uncertain, but positive thinking will help you focus on hope and visualize better times ahead. When you feel flooded with negative thoughts, own them. When you say your thoughts out loud and talk through them, they lose their power.
State your negative thought, think about where it stems from, and offer three positive alternative thoughts. Everyone from older adults to very young children can learn to do this. (I am not good at this remote teaching can be 1. I have been able to see my son learn, 2. I do like participating in brain breaks with my daughter, and 3. We really work together as a team in our home.)
Step 4: Focus on Physical Wellness
Stress can hobble your immune system and make you more susceptible to illness. This can, in turn, negatively affect your emotional state. Maintaining your physical wellness plays an important role in building resilience.
When you take a whole-person approach to self-care, you care for both your body and your mind.
Prioritize sleep According to the National Sleep Foundation, people have different sleep needs at different ages, but sleep is universally affected when you're under stress, regardless of your age. Older adults tend to log fewer hours at night (7 to 8 hours) but may need a nap during the day. Adults need 7 to 9 hours, teens need 8 to 10, and children need 9 to 11. Be sure to maintain a consistent sleep schedule during this time.
Focus on healthy eating If you crave salty or sweet foods when you're under stress, you’re not alone. Many people want comfort food in times of crisis; but balanced, healthy eating is best for your physical health. Plan ahead for a steady rotation of nutritious meals.
Stay hydrated Believe it or not, dehydration can exacerbate symptoms of stress. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day.
Be active In addition to daily exercise, do fun or mentally stimulating activities to enrich your mind and spirit. Play an online card game with a friend or family member, work on a puzzle, spend time gardening, or find another hobby or skill that engages your whole self.
You can take small steps each day to build your resilience muscles, and this will help you through this crisis and any others that come your way.
One of the best ways to cope with stress is with humor.