The COVID-19 pandemic has proven to us how important our dimensions of wellness really are and how much they are interconnected. We’ve all had to examine and reassess our own health behaviors and analyze how we either deposit to, or make a withdrawal from, our health and well-being.
It was interesting to see the response of my high school’s administration and how they have tried to address student and staff well-being. One of the things they did was turn to well-known psychologist, Dr. Lisa Damour, and had her lead a one hour webinar session for students and a separate webinar for staff about managing stress & anxiety and finding positive coping strategies. As I listened, I kept saying to myself, this is skills-based health education, this is what we are trying to accomplish in our health education classes with our students!
Damour referred to all three dimensions of the health triangle in various ways, but she also referenced many of the skills our National Health Educational Standards try to address – specifically our ability to:
- Use decision-making to find more healthy outcomes
- Demonstrate our ability to exhibit health enhancing behaviors – that skill of self-management.
- Analyze the influences on our health behaviors
- Access, interpret, and apply health information
- Use communication skills to enhance our health
- Set goals for ourselves
- Advocate for personal, family or community health.
COVID-19 has forced us to test our own health literacy skills no matter what our age. But perhaps more than anything, our mental and emotional health is being tested like never before and I think there is a need and an opportunity to examine how we teach about emotional health in our health classrooms.
Last year I read a fantastic book by Dr. Marc Brackett, Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, called Permission To Feel, and it opened my eyes to the latest research and depth to emotional well-being. I began to realize there was more for me to learn about my emotional health and felt it was necessary to incorporate what I was learning into lessons to better serve my students and their emotional health.
There is a science to understanding emotion and the book dives into it, but also discusses five key “emotion skills” (RULER Method) that can be learned and practiced. These “emotion skills” are essential for us to thrive in our emotional well-being and the many other dimensions of wellness our emotions impact. The RULER method is the following:
- Recognize our own emotions and those of others
- Understand those feelings and determine why we are feeling them
- Label emotions with a nuanced vocabulary
- Express our feelings in ways that inform and invites empathy from the listener
- Regulate emotions by finding practical strategies for dealing with what we and others feel.
I think generally in Health Education this concept has not been developed to the extent it could be. I’m hoping teachers begin to understand the science and its application to help students practice and develop their “emotion skills” because there is so much overlap with the skills that make up “health literacy.” Perhaps “emotion skills” could be another National Health Education Standard?
During this pandemic it has become even more apparent to me the need for Social Emotional Learning. Not having the daily peer to peer and teacher to student interaction is impacting emotional health more than ever. This human connection is critical to social emotional health and learning. What a great opportunity for health education! Yes, we have always known there is a tremendous SEL opportunity in what we do, but we also need to be intentional in our delivery and really assess how we are bringing value in this area. A question to consider might be how intentional are you in making emotional health a priority and consistent theme in your curriculum?
There is a great SEL model from an organization called the Collaborate for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (known as CASEL) and it addresses 5 key components of SEL.
- Self-Management – managing emotions and behaviors to achieve one’s goals
- Self-Awareness – recognizing one’s emotions and values as well as one’s strengths and challenges
- Responsible Decision-Making – making ethical, constructive choices about personal and social behavior
- Relationship Skills – forming positive relationships, working in teams, dealing effectively with conflict
- Social Awareness – showing understanding and empathy for others
So, how we create curriculum and lessons that align to these components is critical. And if you really think about it, our emotions matter and are interconnected with all of these SEL components. We have to teach our students about healthy emotion regulation – things that can help them in their lives like:
- Physiological regulation (mindful breathing)
- Self-care to support a strong immune system (sleep, nutrition, exercise)
- Positive relationships
- Doing things we enjoy
- Managing their thoughts (acceptance, gratitude, positive self-talk, self-compassion and compassion for other people, reappraisal and problem solving)
I encourage you to reflect on how well you teach emotional wellness in your classroom. We all, teachers and students included, could use a little emotional first-aid more than ever now.
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