A self-care checklist

November 17, 2016

Howard C. Stevenson, Penn GSE
Dr. Howard Stevenson

When educators are under mental duress, they often focus on how they can help their students. This is both natural and noble. But Howard Stevenson, a Penn GSE clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma, believes educators limit their impact and put themselves at risk if they don’t take steps to care for their well-being.

Stevenson offers this checklist for helping educators navigate through stressful situations.

Calculate: Scan your own feelings in the moment. Am I feeling sad, helpless, angry, excited? Whatever that feeling is, measure it on a scale of one to ten, where ten is overwhelming and one is not intense at all. By assigning a number, you are creating an awareness, judging what’s going on, and more accurately determining what feelings you are having.

Locate: Where do you feel that feeling, and to what degree is your body affected? Is it tension in your shoulders, a racing heart, a sick stomach, a choked throat? The more specific you can be, the better. People who are able to say where they are stressed are able to reduce the intensity of those effects.

Communicate: During stressful events, we talk to ourselves. This talk can be positive, negative, or even debilitating. An interior monologue might reflect your fears — what will people think of me? The more you are able to capture this self-talk, the more you are able to re-frame it when you are under threat so it doesn’t undermine your decision making.

Breathe and Exhale: It sounds simple, but purposeful deep breathing during a stressful event helps you regain your peripheral vision and hearing. Clarity and the ability to gather more details in a stressful situation can help keep you from over-reacting or under-reacting.

Tell the story: If you are under severe stress, being able to document the moment — maybe through a diary, maybe telling the story to someone you trust — is essential. It reaffirms your dignity and helps you resist the natural urge to ask if you, as a victim of trauma, were actually at fault. But this storytelling is harder if you’re not aware what is going on with you. 

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