I might have mentioned that I’ve got a small, part-time curriculum-development gig this school year. About twice a month, Cane and I develop a social-emotional learning lesson for students at his high school and facilitate a professional learning session for staff to support them in delivering the lesson. This week our lesson was focused on wellness during the holiday season, and I thought I’d share here a resource I developed for it.
I was inspired by a similar board I saw in multiple places online; I am not sure who originally created it, but I’m linking to a school librarian’s site because I’d bet money it was her or some other librarian. I revised it to include links for all the options and to make it holiday-season specific. Two of the boxes contain links to our local public library system (Multnomah County Library, which is awesome), but everything else should be useful for anyone, anywhere. It contains items to hit all the categories of a typical wellness wheel.
Our students responded positively to this, so I wanted to share it with a wider audience, and I know that some of you are raising teens and some work with teens. This time of year is challenging for teens, y’all. If they are in school, they are fast-approaching or are at the end of a grading period, which is stressful whether they are doing well (and don’t want to blow it on their final exams/projects) or not doing well (because they may be out of time/opportunities to fix things). If the holidays that none of us can entirely escape from are not part of their religious/cultural practices, they may be feeling unseen and left out. If they are, they may be feeling anxiety about gift-giving (lack of $$$, pressure to get the right gifts), having to see family who are unpleasant or harmful, and dealing with their care-givers’ holiday stress. A break from school is not a positive for many teens. It can cut them off from IRL contact with their friends, it disrupts their usual routines, and it may mean increased responsibilities at home. For some, rather than going to school and focusing on their own lives, a school break means being at home and responsible for giving care to siblings or other family members. If they have jobs, they may be working extra shifts (and dealing with folks who are acting out their own holidays feelings). As is true for many adults, this is a time of year when grief can strike hard. Teens may be grieving people they’ve lost, the holidays of their childhoods (that felt different from how holidays feel now), or the family they wish they had (maybe once did have) but don’t.
This board is geared to teens, but it was helpful for me to create it and remind myself of the variety of kinds of self-care available to us. The table includes a link to the Monterey Bay Aquarium live webcams*, and I’m just gonna tell you: When I watched the jellyfish, I could feel my breath slowing and my body softening.
I so wish we had known in the 80s (when I was a teen) what we know now about the physical impacts of chronic stress and complex trauma (or that there is such a thing as complex trauma), and how to mitigate them. I finished up my pain management course this week, and I attended an introductory session with a doctor who focuses on re-wiring (not the clinical term) our unconscious brain so that we can respond differently to perceived threats. This is a slide I screenshotted from the session:
It was so helpful to gain a greater understanding of why simply understanding the stress/trauma that is causing physical issues isn’t enough to cure them: The action is happening in the parts of our brain that we don’t consciously control, so we can’t entirely think our way to different responses. (I have an extreme startle response, for example, and even when I know a noise is coming and that it’s not a threat, my whole body often still jumps when I hear it.) Because of neuroplasticity, though, we can create changes in our parasympathetic nervous system, which will change how we respond. Or that’s the theory, anyway.
I’ve got a lot of thoughts and feelings about the sources of my chronic stress and complex trauma, especially those that relate to working for 3+ decades in public education. The thoughts are barely formed and if I tried to share anything right now, it would just be a big word vomit. But I can say this:
Things are not the same as they were when you went to school. Our teachers and students are under constant stress, and it’s different than it was 15 or 20 or 30 years ago, and it’s not sustainable. We have got to find better ways, because a society full of traumatized and under-supported people is going to look…well, a lot like the one we’re living in.
Despite that dire last paragraph, I am feeling hopeful in ways that I haven’t in decades, and the hope is a tremendous gift. Now that I have it, I can see how long I didn’t, and what impact a lack of hope has had on me. For many weeks now, I have not been attending to much other than my health. I go to various appointments, I go skating, I make nourishing food, I tend my primary relationships, I run our household, and I rest. All of that adds up to a full-time job. I haven’t had much time for writing or any other creative work (other than the small curriculum job) or other kinds of things that have typically filled my tank (for example, dates with friends). But I’m OK with that. This isn’t the season for me to fill my tank; it’s the season for me to repair the holes in it. I’m playing a long game here.
Hoping that you are finding ways to fill and/or repair yours. Would love to hear about them–or your thoughts about anything connected to this post. Sending wishes for health and peace to all who read here.
*The live cam link can be a bit finicky. For some reason, it works best for me when I access it through the link on the chart. Have no idea why that should make a difference.