By Emily Luft, Program Director, Alive and Well STL
In my work with Alive and Well STL, I have the opportunity to talk to thousands of service providers about the impacts of stress and trauma on our health and wellbeing.
I frequently witness providers connecting their individual work to the science of trauma in ways that continue to help me gain greater and greater appreciation for this body of research. While I have the opportunity to watch awareness begin to bubble into action, the best, and hardest, question I am asked is “what am I supposed to do now?”
Depending on who asks, my answers can vary widely from making small changes in their own practice to advocating for organizational policy changes to simply practicing better self care. The reality is that best, most honest answer to the “what am I supposed to do now?” question is simply “something.”
Trauma is a pervasive issue in our community. Research shows that prevalence in the general population is more than 50% and many in the St. Louis region believe that number is much higher in our community. It can impact everything from the anatomy of a child’s growing brain to an adult’s financial security, and nearly every disparity our community struggles with connects to trauma in some way.
The opportunity, and challenge, with addressing trauma is the same opportunity that comes whenever we grapple with the new, big, public health problems of our time.
There is no answer for problems this big. Instead, there are thousands of small, every day answers that together help us to change individuals, organizations, and ultimately, whole communities.
There are people all across our community who are starting to find their answers and address the impacts of toxic stress and trauma. Some are finding ways to use their knowledge about trauma to educate those with whom they work and others are realizing the importance of talking about self care with their clients. Physicians are approaching appointments and exams in new ways – more aware of how trauma impacts their patients. Leaders from organizations across our community are committing to real, long-term culture change in order to revolutionize the way they deliver services and care for their staff. All of these answers are critical pieces of moving our community in the right direction.
While I am always impressed by individuals who are taking big, bold actions to support this work, I think it is critical to highlight the changes people are making inside of themselves or in their daily interactions with others. A principal of a local high school started encouraging her staff to seek professional mental health support when they were struggling. Her encouragement has connected at least one staff member into ongoing care that is helping him cope and thrive in new ways.
Knowing that the antidote to trauma is resilience, people across our community are thinking about their self-care in new ways. People are starting to practice yoga or mindfulness when they had never before or are reaching out and connecting with supportive friends they had lost contact with long ago. Students and teachers are pausing during their busy days to take slow, deep breaths to help clear their minds and help them succeed. Others are accepting that practicing self-care means actually taking care of themselves and scheduling that dental appointment they have been putting off for months.
What excites me each day when I wake up is that all of us, every day, have the opportunity to push ourselves and our communities to become more supportive. Not every day will be the day we suggest revisions to policy manuals or schedule trainings to increase our skills around trauma-informed care, but every day has possibility. There is possibility to create our own new answers to “what am I supposed to do now” and to help others discover theirs. Creating an Alive and Well community is a big task, and addressing the impacts of trauma will be a project of public health for years to come. What we all must remember is that every day has a place to start. Find your answer today, and every day.