November 17, 2016

A self-care checklist

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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