Boston is trying to get back to normal. Stores are open. Trains are running. And today children return to school. With memories of the Newtown tragedy still fresh, and the haunting images of the Boston Marathon inescapable, teachers will be there to meet them.
No one who lived through these recent acts of violence can escape their effects. You didn’t need to be there to feel powerless in the face of such horror. Just hearing about it or seeing media images can leave bystanders questioning their ability to protect themselves and the children in their care.
Teachers are no strangers to this type of secondary trauma. Their involvement in the family life of their students takes an emotional toll on teachers- often spilling over into their personal lives. The additional stress of sustained exposure to violence increases the risk of symptoms commonly seen in trauma victims: hyper-arousal, nightmares, anxiety and depression.
Managing symptoms of secondary trauma requires participation in activities that are physically, emotionally, and spiritually rejuvenating. Here are some self-care strategies you can put in place.
- Exercise daily. Take a walk during lunch or spend a few minutes stretching between classes.
- Take scheduled breaks, even if only for a few minutes.
- Use stress management relaxation techniques to calm yourself.
- Find ways of pampering yourself that help you relax and release the stress of the day. Schedule a facial or massage, take a hot bath, or ask your partner for a backrub.
- Know your limits. Know how much of your time and yourself you can give. Set limits and communicate them to others.
- Make use of social support. Reach out to families, friends, and co-workers.
- Find a way of processing how you are feeling as a result of your work. Keep a journal or “debrief” with a trusted friend or colleague who listen to you with understanding rather than judgment
- Connect to a cause or community group that is personally meaningful to you.
- Celebrate successes.
- Learn to meditate.
- Create a specific list of healing activities. Look at this list regularly and update it every few weeks. Commit to doing the things on your list.
- Limit you exposure to violent material by avoiding violent movies or reading detailed accounts of gruesome events.
- Make self-renewal a part of everyday life. Set time aside each day to reconnect with yourself. Spend time working on a personal goal or hobby that helps you move forward in realizing a dream, or developing a talent.
For more information about managing the effects of secondary trauma, check out Reaching and Teaching Children Who Hurt: Strategies for Your Classroom, Brookes Publishing , 2008.