I was walking down the hallway at school right before the holiday break. I saw winter decorations adorning the hallway, twinkling lights on the trees, and planning for the upcoming party before the break. Further down the hallway, I heard children practicing songs for the holiday concert.
There were other signs of the upcoming break. Students loudly yelling, slamming locker doors in frustration, and sitting solemnly in the Dean of Students Office. Both teachers and students were dealing with some big emotions.
If you don’t work in a school, imagine the clients you work with before the holidays. Maybe they are stressed by the lack of money, mental illness, unemployment, or the hustle and bustle of this time of year. Big emotions can come through in various behaviors; it may be a sharp response or a communication shutdown.
How can we help create safety in our environment with students or clients?
One of my favorite videos is Understanding Trauma: Learning Brain vs. Survival Brain by Jacob Ham. In the video, the Learning Brain is open to new information, comfortable with ambiguity, and emotionally calm. On the other hand, the Survival Brain can be hyper-focused on threats, have black-and-white thinking, and cannot easily take in new information. They are in an emotional state of stress.
Ham goes on to explain that the longer people are in their Survival Brain, the easier it is for it to go on and stay on. People in trauma misperceive ambiguous situations as stressful; this creates an environment where it’s easier to slide into Survival Brain.
The more control there is over stress, the easier it is to be in the Learning Brain. Also, the more connection and attachment a person has to a calm, caring, and competent adult, the easier it is to be in a Learning Brain.
Let’s assume that most of our students or clients have experienced trauma over the past two years!
Let’s also assume that people learn best when they feel safe and supported by the people around them.
Here are a few practical resources to create safety in an environment so learning can occur.
- The first way to support others is to create a self-awareness practice for yourself. What is your wellness practice if you are a teacher, daycare provider, director, service provider, or working in a helping profession? I shared three techniques you could use to decrease stress here.
- Dr. Lori Desautels, on her website Revelations in Education, has free Focus Attention Practices to use at any grade level or group. The routine of integrating these practices with students and adults can help bring calm to a dysregulated nervous system.
- I created a free downloadable resource outlining 5 Strategies to Access the Learning Brain. This resource is for teachers; however, individuals can also use the strategies. You can download the resource on my website by clicking here.
Creating an environment where learning can take place comes down to building consistent skills with students and clients. Using these resources when people are in their survival brain will not work. When does it ever work to tell someone to calm down? Never!
Pick one or two of the resources above and practice. Do a calming down activity as an individual or as a group. Great times to practice are transitions, the beginning or end of the day, or before you have a big meeting. You will help others to move into their learning brain by creating your calm. Before you know it, you will see a positive change in your nervous system and the people around you.