Students aren’t the only ones who can benefit from a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness can help teachers manage their stress and strengthen their relationships with their students, among other benefits.
However, any mindfulness program that’s set up in a school must be trauma-informed. Below, we’ll tell you exactly why being trauma-informed is important, and walk you through 3 trauma-informed mindfulness exercises that you can use as an educator.
Educators Need Trauma-Informed Mindfulness Practice, Too
There’s no doubt about it: teachers today are stressed. Teaching has long been one of the world’s most stressful occupations, and this continues to be the case today. Surveys now show that up to 3 in 4 teachers experience high amounts of work-related stress, and up to a third are facing symptoms of workplace burnout.
Because of this, almost 1 in 10 teachers leave the profession every year, and half of all new teachers leave within their first 5 years.
And who could be surprised? Teachers are expected to work long hours not only teaching, but also being emotional support for their students. On top of that, they’re often carrying the secondary trauma from the negative experiences that their students go through. Who could be surprised that teachers are some of the most stressed people in the workforce?
If you’re a teacher who’s feeling the brunt of stress and burnout, know that it’s not your fault. And the responsibility to take better care of teachers falls not only on teachers themselves, but on administrators and district leaders as well.
With that said, mindfulness is a great, effective way for teachers to combat some of the stress that comes along with this profession. Mindfulness can easily be practiced by anyone, and by committing to a regular practice, teachers can take their well-being into their own hands and ensure that they’re doing everything they can to care for their mental health.
Having a regular mindfulness practice can:
- Decrease your stress levels
- Help you sleep better
- Improve your relationships, both at and outside of school
- Help you communicate better with your students
- Help you understand your own emotional reactions
- Help you better support students who have behavioral difficulties
Although a mindfulness practice may not be able to solve all of your problems, it can help you learn how to manage stress in a healthy way.
Why Mindfulness Needs to Be Trauma-Informed
Any mindfulness program that’s implemented school-wide should always be trauma-informed.
Trauma-informed mindfulness is the practice of mindfulness that’s specifically designed to be aware of and sensitive to how trauma affects us. Trauma, or the psychological response to a life-threatening or otherwise terrifying experience, is surprisingly common in today’s society. Most people will go through a traumatic event at some point in their lives.
Teachers are especially vulnerable to trauma -- especially secondary trauma. Not only do educators need to survive traumatic events in their own lives, they often also need to help their students with trauma and other hardships. Teachers can be affected by what’s known as secondary, or vicarious, trauma. The symptoms of secondary trauma are similar to those of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Secondary trauma can come on when teachers listen to and empathize with their students’ painful and traumatic stories over and over again. Secondary traumatic stress is a common occupational hazard for teachers working with children who have experienced trauma.
Mindfulness is generally an emotionally safe practice, and it’s been shown to help people deal with the aftereffects of trauma.
But when it’s not trauma-informed, it can sometimes bring up thoughts and feelings that we’re not ready to confront. Mindfulness asks us to stay present with whatever experience we’re having in each present moment. When people have gone through trauma, some moments and memories can be overwhelming to sit with. It isn’t helpful to ask people to relive their traumatic experiences.
Trauma-informed mindfulness makes necessary adjustments to ensure the practice is safe for people who have lived through a trauma. Above all, any trauma-informed practice seeks to avoid retraumatizing people in any way. Trauma-informed mindfulness may help people to reconnect with their physical bodies, since the effects of trauma are often stored in the body. Trauma-informed mindfulness educators may also adjust their instructions in order to empower their students and give them more of a choice.
Considering how common traumatic experiences are, and how teachers are especially vulnerable to secondary trauma, any mindfulness program that’s implemented at school should always be trauma-informed.
Trauma-Informed Mindfulness Exercises for Teachers
Here are 3 easy exercises to start a trauma-informed mindfulness practice for yourself.
Mindfulness of the external, not internal, world.
It can be overwhelming for people who have been through trauma to immediately start their mindfulness journey by paying close attention to their internal world. Paying attention to our thoughts and feelings is an important step in the journey, but you don’t need to start there if those thoughts and feelings are frightening.
Instead, try being mindful of the external world. Listen closely to sounds that you wouldn’t notice ordinarily. Try to count all the different colors that you see around you from where you’re sitting. Smell the air, and try to piece out all of the different aromas.
Mindful movement and body awareness
Somatic exercises that put you in touch with your physical body are great ways to practice trauma-informed mindfulness. Common and simple exercises like stretching and basic yoga can become mindfulness exercises, depending on how you practice them.
Don’t rush through each stretch or yoga pose. Instead, pay attention to how your body feels with each movement. Move slowly, and don’t overexert yourself. Move your body in ways that feel good to you.
Mindful deep breathing
Deep breathing can slow down your body’s trauma and stress response by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. You can combine deep breathing techniques with mindfulness to take advantage of this benefit.
Put one hand on your belly, and the other on your heart. You may close your eyes if you want to (and feel safe doing so), but you don’t have to. Then, breathe in, all the way into the very bottom of your diaphragm. The hand on top of your belly should rise up. Try to avoid shallow breathing into your chest.
Then, slowly let the air out through your nose. You should feel your belly deflating like a balloon. Notice how your body feels as you breathe deeply in this way.
If you start feeling tense or frightened during any of these activities, you are always free to step away and practice self-care. Mindfulness is not about pushing or forcing yourself to do things that feel scary or unpleasant.
If you’d like some assistance in setting up a trauma-informed mindfulness program at your school, Calm Classroom may be able to help. Get in touch with us today to learn more about our offerings.