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Self-Care in the Time of Trauma

by Lou Paschall

I've decided to stop making life harder by pretending it's not hard.

Paraphrased from Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed by Glennon Doyle Melton

Unreal. That’s the word that keeps coming to mind to describe what we are currently experiencing with the school closures due to Covid-19. And even that word is not right because this is all very real. If someone had told me in the Fall of 2019 that schools nationwide would be closed for weeks on end, I would have never believed it. When we all found ourselves in that position a few weeks ago, it was quite an adjustment.

One silver lining to the whole situation was the way that teachers all over the country were On. It. Hitting the ground running doesn’t come close to describing how quickly they got to work delivering content for students online. Coach Pete Wood out of Chattanooga, Tennessee began putting up daily online P.E. classes. Caitie Searfoss Oliver (The Nerdy School Social Worker) out of Grand Rapids, Michigan started posting daily SEL lessons. Manchester, Tennessee’s own Mae Anne Hale designed science lessons to share.

It prompted me to think about what I could do to help – what I could contribute during these hard days – and it occurred to me that I could share about self-care. Because of the profession’s increased and ever-growing emphasis on self-care over the past few years, I felt like I was uniquely prepared as a Social Worker to deliver this content. I decided that I would post a short video about self-care every day that schools are closed due to the pandemic. Under the title, “Self-Care Staffing”, I spend between 10 and 20 minutes talking about one or two related self-care topics. Each video includes quotes, something to make viewers laugh, and a song recommendation. Thus far, topics have included the basics of covid-19, downstairs and upstairs brain, personality assessments, overthinking vs. planning, the PRoQOL assessment, neuroplasticity, affirmations, and being a friend to yourself.

At least one tweet that I’ve seen has pointed out that there is an explanation for why we’re so tired even though our daily activity load is decreased. Our exhaustion is a trauma response. As I’m almost exclusively working from home these days, I decided to get in some training that would be really difficult to make time for otherwise. This definition of trauma included in the Starr Commonwealth Trauma-Informed Resilient Schools training seems particularly relevant: any experience that leaves a person feeling hopeless, helpless, and fearing for their life/survival or safety. This experience can be REAL or PERCEIVED. The tweet and the definition from the training helped me realize that the most important part of everything I’m sharing in the videos may be naming what we’re experiencing right now: trauma.

My self-care videos are the culmination of years of studying the topic and gathering materials. My partner in the journey is Stephanie Bennett, School Social Worker in Rutherford County Schools, where we were colleagues for over 16 years. After Stephanie and I had been studying self-care for a while, we facilitated in-services for the staff in our school system. Because we felt that one size does not fit all in terms of self-care, we called it, “More Than Lighting a Candle or Taking a Walk: Individualized Self-Care for Educators”. As I think back to all the things we’ve learned together about self-care so far, it seems like two ideas collided to prompt me to start the Self-Care Staffing series.

One of the first people to encourage me to practice self-care was Dr. Charles Frost, who served as the Chair of the Social Work department at Middle Tennessee State University, where I completed my undergraduate work. He said, “You are your most important client.” I really love this idea! Yes, we want to do good self-care so we can continue serving others, but it’s also worth it even if we are the only one who benefits from our self-care efforts.

Another foundational idea about self-care came from John Norcross and James Guy who wrote Leaving It at the Office: A Guide to Psychotherapist Self-Care. They wrote, “Put self-care on the agenda at every staff meeting…Organize in-service activities or retreats on self-care. Include it in the annual staff evaluations.” From this quote came the idea to have a whole staffing on the topic of self-care.

From the feeding programs to the sharing of instructional resources to the teacher caravans, teachers, “school people”, and families are all doing so much these days working toward the goal of all of us getting through this together.While you are busy doing the heroic deeds for others that you are individually prepared to do, please remember that your offerings are extraordinary because these are such difficult times.As we all continue to do our part, please don’t underestimate the emotional impact of experiencing a world-wide trauma and treat yourself accordingly.

Lou (Scott) Paschall received her Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Tennessee and her Bachelor's Degree in Social Work from Middle Tennessee State University. She is a Licensed School Social Worker and a Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker in Tennessee. She is currently employed as the School Social Worker in the Manchester City Schools. She provides School Social Work Services at three schools.  Her research interests are the ethical use of technology and supervision in School Social Work practice. Prior to her employment in her current position, she worked as a School Social Worker in the Rutherford County Schools for more than 16 years.   

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