What is Self-Care and Why Do it?
"It can be difficult for educators, who are so often over-tasked and under-resourced, to prioritize self-care. But doing so is incredibly important and beneficial, both for educators and their students, especially when it comes to supporting students affected by trauma. Teaching is emotional labor, so here are some ways for trauma-informed educators to cope, care for themselves, and prevent burnout."
Educators who work with students impacted by trauma run the risk of experiencing secondary traumatic stress, also referred to as compassion fatigue or vicarious trauma. According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, compassion fatigue is “the emotional duress that results when an individual hears about the firsthand trauma experiences of another.”
Signs of Compassion Fatigue
The symptoms of compassion fatigue are similar to those associated with first-hand trauma:
anger and/or sadness
Additionally, some may experience denial. This can be one of most dangerous symptoms, according to the Compassion Fatigue Project. “Denial is one of the most detrimental symptoms of Compassion Fatigue and Life Stress. It can easily hinder your ability to assess the level of fatigue and stress in your life, as well as thwart your efforts to begin the healing process.”
In a school organization, leaders and peers should look for collective symptoms such as:
struggles amongst teacher teams
aggressive staff behaviors
colleagues feeling overwhelmed or unable to finish their work
negativity toward school leadership
resistance to change
a general apathy toward the school mission and its success
Ways to Practice Self-Care
"School leaders can help sooth compassion fatigue by offering professional development around self-care or mindfulness."
“In order to support students or those around you, you must first support yourself! Think of the banking system. You need to have money to make withdrawals. If you have nothing left to give, because you have not taken care of yourself, your “bank” will be deficient and you will be even more stressed. Practice mindfulness strategies, do things you enjoy, and remember you are worthy of being cared for also.”
"One way to help build some healthy emotional boundaries is to identify what you wish you could do versus what you can actually do. You cannot eradicate or prevent all suffering for your students."
Build a strong peer network
"Building and relying upon small support groups, staff teams or work/home friendships can help make the work more manageable. When we realize we’re not alone, the burden gets lighter."
Circles of Control
The "Circle of Control" activity can be used in any time of stress or anxiety. Think about if the thing you are worrying about is in your control or not. If it isn't, try using a mantra like, "That is not in my control so I will let it go. Instead, I will focus my energy on..." and think of things that are in your control.
Use this activity to self-assess what area of self-care you should be focusing on.
Physical Self-Care: Preventive care/Exercise/Nutrition/Sleep
Social Self-Care: Spending time with family and friends; connecting with a friend at work
Mental Health & Well-being Self-Care: Dealing with feelings in a healthy way through journaling/friends/counseling
Community Self Care: Contributing to the community you live in; volunteering, loving where you live
Financial Self-Care: Feeling financially secure, setting a budget, saving for retirement
Purpose Self-Care: Take time for lunch, set boundaries, leave work at work, take vacation; find value in what you do each day
"Who am I? Who are you? What makes you you? We define ourselves in many different ways. By our job, our family, our roles, our activities, our politics, our hobbies, our interests, our passions, our religion, our relationships, our personality, our characteristics, our ethics, our wishes, our hopes, and desires and many other factors.
Our identity is multifaceted and complex, and who we are shifts throughout our lives. When big changes happen, particularly when these happen abruptly, we can feel like we lose part of ourselves and are a shadow of our former selves. Our identity can feel like a faded mirage that we can't quite capture or find.
The current pandemic may have led to changes and losses in your life. This can feel like part of you has gone and you may too find yourself wondering who you are.
When I work to help restore identity, we strip back the external factors and think about what being you really means. What's important to you? What are your values? What gives your life meaning? Once we know this you can reconnect with activities, people and actions that align with this so you can gradually build up these pieces of you again and rebuild your identity.
It may not be exactly the same again, (because brains and people are always changing in response to their experiences) and you may not be doing exactly the same, but you are still there. You can build up your life in line with your values and what gives you meaning. Perhaps you might need to build this with different actions than before, and find new actions that help you connect with what's important to you to build your identity up again so you feel like you once more and you know who you are again."
Dr. Emma Hepburn (instagram: thepsychologymum)
This check-in can be done at any time - the beginning or end of your week, or even daily. Fill in the blanks:
"I feel____" "I need____"
"I forgive____" "I celebrate____"
"I release____" "I trust____"
Use this to assess what you need to let go of and what you need to add in order to move forward.
Self-talk is your internal dialogue. It’s influenced by your subconscious mind, and it reveals your thoughts, beliefs, questions, and ideas. It can be positive or negative. Positive self-talk has been linked to all sorts of physical health benefits, like improved immune function, reduced pain, better cardiovascular health, and overall better phsyical well-being. Positive self-talk also has mental health benefits and can reduce the harmful effects of stress and anxiety.
What are some types of negative self-talk?
Personalizing. You blame yourself for everything.
Magnifying. You focus on the negative aspects of a situation, ignoring any and all of the positive.
Catastrophizing. You expect the worst, and you rarely let logic or reason persuade you otherwise.
Polarizing. You see the world in black and white, or good and bad. There’s nothing in between and no middle ground for processing and categorizing life events
What are some examples of flipping negative self-talk into positive?
Negative: I’ll disappoint everyone if I change my mind.
Positive: I have the power to change my mind. Others will understand.
Negative: I failed and embarrassed myself.
Positive: I’m proud of myself for even trying. That took courage.
Negative: I’m overweight and out of shape. I might as well not bother.
Positive: I am capable and strong, and I want to get healthier for me.
Negative: I let everyone on my team down when I didn’t score.
Positive: Sports are a team event. We win and lose together.
Negative: I’ve never done this before and I’ll be bad at it.
Positive: This is a wonderful opportunity for me to learn from others and grow.
Negative: There’s just no way this will work.
Positive: I can and will give it my all to make it work.
How can I use this on a daily basis?
Identify negative self-talk traps. Certain scenarios may increase your self-doubt and lead to more negative self-talk. Work events, for example, may be particularly hard. Pinpointing when you experience the most negative self-talk can help you anticipate and prepare.
Check in with your feelings. Stop during events or bad days and evaluate your self-talk. Is it becoming negative? How can you turn it around?
Find the humor. Laughter can help relieve stress and tension. When you need a boost for positive self-talk, find ways to laugh, such as watching funny animal videos or a comedian.
Surround yourself with positive people. Whether or not you notice it, you can absorb the outlook and emotions of people around you. This includes negative and positive, so choose positive people when you can.
Give yourself positive affirmations. Sometimes, seeing positive words or inspiring images can be enough to redirect your thoughts. Post small reminders in your office, in your home, and anywhere you spend a significant amount of time.
Remember... Kids listen to the way you speak about yourself. You set the tone for their self-talk.
Communicating What You Need
"Being able to communicate constructively is one of a caregiverʼs most important tools. When you communicate in ways that are clear, assertive, and constructive, you will be heard and get the help and support you need. The box below shows basic guidelines for good communication."
Use “I” messages rather than “you” messages. Saying “I feel angry” rather than “You made me angry” enables you to express your feelings without blaming others or causing them to become defensive.
Respect the rights and feelings of others. Do not say something that will violate another personʼs rights or intentionally hurt the personʼs feelings. Recognize that the other person has the right to express feelings.
Be clear and specific. Speak directly to the person. Donʼt hint or hope the person will guess what you need. Other people are not mind readers. When you speak directly about what you need or feel, you are taking the risk that the other person might disagree or say no to your request, but that action also shows respect for the other personʼs opinion. When both parties speak directly, the chances of reaching understanding are greater.
Be a good listener. Listening is the most important aspect of communication
Asking for and Accepting Help
"When people have asked if they can be of help to you, how often have you replied, “Thank you, but I'm fine.” Many caregivers donʼt know how to marshal the goodwill of others and are reluctant to ask for help. You may not wish to “burden” others or admit that you can't handle everything yourself.
Be prepared with a mental list of ways that others could help you. For example, someone could take the person you care for on a 15-minute walk a couple of times a week. Your neighbor could pick up a few things for you at the grocery store. A relative could fill out some insurance papers. When you break down the jobs into very simple tasks, it is easier for people to help. And they do want to help. It is up to you to tell them how.
Help can come from community resources, family, friends, and professionals. Ask them. Donʼt wait until you are overwhelmed and exhausted or your health fails. Reaching out for help when you need it is a sign of personal strength."
Tips on How to Ask
Consider the personʼs special abilities and interests. If you know a friend enjoys cooking but dislikes driving, your chances of getting help improve if you ask for help with meal preparation.
Resist asking the same person repeatedly. Do you keep asking the same person because she has trouble saying no?
Pick the best time to make a request. Timing is important. A person who is tired and stressed might not be available to help out. Wait for a better time.
Prepare a list of things that need doing. The list might include errands, yard work, or a visit with your loved one. Let the “helper” choose what she would like to do.
Be prepared for hesitance or refusal. It can be upsetting for the caregiver when a person is unable or unwilling to help. But in the long run, it would do more harm to the relationship if the person helps only because he doesnʼt want to upset you. To the person who seems hesitant, simply say, “Why donʼt you think about it.” Try not to take it personally when a request is turned down. The person is turning down the task, not you. Try not to let a refusal prevent you from asking for help again. The person who refused today may be happy to help at another time.
Avoid weakening your request. “Itʼs only a thought, but would you consider staying with Grandma while I went to church?” This request sounds like itʼs not very important to you. Use “I” statements to make specific requests: “I would like to go to church on Sunday. Would you stay with Grandma from 9 a.m. until noon?”
Anxiety During COVID-19
Dr. Kevin Gilliland, a clinical psychologist, says that anxiety can be hard to pinpoint or identify because it presents in many different ways that may seem unrelated. However, recognizing it in yourself can guide you to activities and practices that can help alleviate the negative effects of stress.
In this article, Dr. Gilliland shares ten "sneaky" ways that anxiety is presenting itself during COVID-19.
1. You’re feeling more tired than usual, even if you don’t do much during the day
Gilliland noted that energy loss is “the most common and confusing side effect of this pandemic, especially for people that are typically active or frequent exercisers...All this stress and worry starts to drain our battery in a hurry and by mid-afternoon, most people are on a slippery slope to the couch or bed.”
2. You aren’t sleeping well
Perhaps you’re tired all the time and you want to sleep, but no dice. Or maybe you do fall asleep, but the quality isn’t great. Blame it on your anxiety. “Insomnia frequently occurs in anxious people,” Talley said
Do what you can to create a nighttime ritual, stick to a consistent bedtime, avoid screens for an hour or so before bed, and limit caffeine intake in the afternoon so you can support your sleep cycle the best you can.
3. You startle easily
We all get startled from time to time, but if you’re more jumpy than usual it’s time to take notice. Your body and brain could be on high alert because of anxiety.
If your anxiety is presenting in tension and hypervigilance, “it doesn’t take much of the unexpected to have us come unwound,” Gilliland said
4. You’re channeling lots of energy into hobbies or activities
Excessive enthusiasm or extreme productivity might be your coping mechanism, or how your anxiety is presenting. “Some may find that they now tend to focus their mental energies on organizing their schedules, or the house or shopping routines,” Talley said. “The ability to gain control through organizing provides a counterbalance to the sense of having little control over that which makes them anxious.”
Make sure you’re taking time to rest and confront anything you may be feeling.
5. You don’t have much interest in anything
On the flip side, “COVID anxiety can appear as apathy,” said Habib Sadeghi, an integrative health expert and author of “The Clarity Cleanse.”
This is because routines that have given us structure and a sense of purpose are now disrupted or gone entirely. “When we can’t follow our routine or do the things that are important to us, like work, go to school, or work out, life can feel meaningless,” Sadeghi said.
The antidote? “It’s important to use this time to create new routines for ourselves and find new interests,” he said. (Just be careful not to fall into the trap mentioned above. There is a balance.)
6. Intense loneliness
A remedy to this is not necessarily the most ideal option, but it can work: virtual connection. “Be sure you’re reaching out to family and friends over the phone and on live chat video platforms like Zoom,” he said. “Seeing and/or hearing the other person provides a connection that’s more personal and nurturing.”
7. You’re experiencing reactivation or agitation of other mental health conditions
It’s super-important to keep tabs on your emotions and ensure you have the right resources to support your mental health. Reach out to your therapist if you have one, and if you don’t try chatting with a professional via teletherapy or another support route. Also, stay on top of any medications you need, journal and take time for yourself. Do whatever you need to do to prioritize your mind.
8. You’re getting more headaches or other physical issues
Talley noted that you may see some physical symptoms that may appear to be all over the map. Think headaches, dizziness, heart palpitations, ulcers, insomnia, rashes, hand tremors, general restlessness and gastrointestinal issues. Keep an eye out for these, and use them as a “check engine light” of sorts. They could be a sign you’re experiencing major anxiety.
9. You get angry or have more frequent outbursts
“For people who feel that some important aspect of life is in danger ― like their health or the health of loved ones ― and that they have little control over the outcome, it is not unusual for them to become angry,” Talley said. “The more one is used to feeling in control, the more likely one is to feel anger.”
This anger may be directed at yourself or at others. You might be overly self-critical about everything you do at work or pick apart your appearance, for example. Or you may find yourself snapping or getting frustrated with those around you.
10. You keep forgetting things
Having trouble staying on top of your to-dos? Forget something you were in the middle of? This is a cognitive symptom of anxiety, Talley said. Your brain is overloaded with stress and may struggle to manage tasks and mental checklists that seemed routine before.