Feb Moments

Mission Moments: February 2022

Trauma-informed programs and support tools are becoming increasingly critical in schools as staff, students and their families absorb the impact of the pandemic, school violence, an overall rise in mental health concerns, and more.

Explore the impact of chronic stress in relation to trauma and how access to tools such as mindfulness, when approached through a trauma-informed lens, can support mental health and well-being for children and adults.

What is Trauma?

Trauma is the experience of an event or enduring conditions in which an individual's ability to integrate their emotional experience is overwhelmed and the individual experiences (either objectively or subjectively) a threat to their life, body integrity, or that of a caregiver or family (Saakvitne, K., 2000). Examples of traumatic experiences include abuse, family or community violence, racism, or the sudden and potentially violent loss of a loved one.
Though trauma can happen at any age, it has long-lasting implications for children; the term adverse childhood experience (ACE) is often used to address potentially traumatic events that take place at a young age.

How is Chronic Stress Linked to Trauma?

Chronic stress is a well-documented symptom of trauma and causes mental and physical health complications. In children, chronic stress inhibits healthy brain development and prevents learning – this negatively impacts their outcomes in school and life.
When a healthy body encounters a perceived threat, the fight or flight response is activated for a brief period. Chronic stress, on the other hand, activates this response for a prolonged duration; the overexposure to cortisol and the other stress hormones that follow can disrupt nearly all of the body’s natural processes (Mayo Clinic, 2011; NIH, 2011).

Why is a Trauma-Informed Mindfulness Practice Necessary?

Mindfulness targets chronic stress by calming the nervous system – it teaches tools that can be used to self-regulate and bring the body out of a prolonged reactive state. In this way, daily mindfulness practice can be utilized as a preventative mental health measure and a coping tool. Approaching mindfulness through a trauma-informed lens fosters healing and connection for those experiencing trauma by addressing concerns such as safety, transparency, and cultural differences.

The Six Principles of a Trauma-Informed Approach (SAMHSA, 2014) offer a helpful framework that can be used in any group setting:
Safety: All involved feel physically and psychologically safe. Understanding safety as defined by those served is a high priority.Establishing safety will be unique to each population, but we offer a few universal best practices to use with Inner Explorer:

  • Developing structure, such as practicing mindfulness at the same time each day, creates safety through predictability.
  • Promote a safe environment by ensuring that participation is optional and/or when the window of tolerance is met, a child may move on to another activity (provide an activity in advance to reduce disruptions in a group setting).
  • Allow the eyes to remain open during practice, offer alternatives to sitting still, such as coloring or movement.

Trustworthiness and transparency: Decisions are made with transparency to build and maintain trust among all community members.
- When integrating Inner Explorer, we encourage school administration and staff to include students and families in the process by providing resources to fully understand what mindfulness is, how it works, and remaining open and compassionate when addressing questions or concerns. Resources we provide include topics such as introducing mindfulness, Inner Explorer benefits and overcoming resistance.

Peer support: Recognition that peer support is key to establishing safety and hope, building trust, enhancing collaboration, and utilizing their stories and lived experiences to promote recovery and healing.
- When an entire classroom or school practices daily mindfulness together, all students develop skills such as social awareness and empathy. This fosters an environment in which peers feel safe and supported sharing their experiences. If a difficulty arises due to conflicting viewpoints, students have the tools to act with curiosity and compassion.

Collaboration and mutuality: Meaningful sharing of power and decision-making; leveling of power differences – everyone has an important role to play in this work.
- Inner Explorer is audio-guided and designed for school staff, students, and their families to practice mindfulness together. This strengthens the entire community by eliminating stigma and giving children and adults access to develop skills such as self-awareness, emotional regulation, and resilience side-by-side, at the same pace.

Empowerment and choice: Community members are supported in shared decision-making, choice, goal setting, and developing self-advocacy skills.
- Daily mindfulness develops self-advocacy by teaching the skill of self-awareness, along with built-in reflection time after each practice. When children and adults can identify how they are feeling, they are empowered to communicate their needs with others. As an educator shared with our team: “Students who were once extremely shy learn to ask for what they need. It’s not that their voice wasn't there before – it's that they didn't know how to find it. Mindfulness helps students get in touch with who they are."

Cultural, historical, and gender issues: Incorporates policies, protocols, and processes that are responsive to the racial, ethnic, and cultural needs of individuals served.
- We are committed to inclusive programming through a diverse group of narrators, along with making practices available in English and Spanish. This exposes staff, students, and their families to cultural differences that they may not normally encounter. Supplemental activities, such as “Exploring Differences,” are included in our program to help communities reflect and discuss these topics as a collective.

We would like to acknowledge that trauma is an incredibly complex subject that spans far beyond this brief introduction. We encourage you to continue exploring the impact of trauma and the use of mindfulness as a support tool.

Resources for further information:
- What is Trauma?
- The Impact of Early Adversity on Children’s Development

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