Educator Wellness Podcast

Connecting to your Environment in a Meaningful Way to Support your Well-Being

April 21, 2023 Scanlan Center for School Mental Health Season 1 Episode 7
Connecting to your Environment in a Meaningful Way to Support your Well-Being
Educator Wellness Podcast
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Educator Wellness Podcast
Connecting to your Environment in a Meaningful Way to Support your Well-Being
Apr 21, 2023 Season 1 Episode 7
Scanlan Center for School Mental Health

During this episode, Craig N. Sawchuk, Ph.D., L.P., Chair, Division of Integrated Behavioral Health, Department of Psychiatry & Psychology at Mayo Clinic, joins me to engage in a discussion that will guide/encourage participants to think about what environmental wellness is and how it impacts their daily lives and well-being.

Environmental wellness encompasses not just your relationship with the planet and nature, but your relationship with your personal surroundings. When our personal surroundings are cared for, clean, and organized, we can experience greater comfort and less anxiety. In addition, this dimension of wellness involves being and feeling physically safe, in both our micro-environment (places we live, learn, work, etc.) and our macro-environment (our country, community, and the whole planet).

Thanks for listening! Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, X, LinkedIn and YouTube.

Visit our website: https://scsmh.education.uiowa.edu

Show Notes Transcript

During this episode, Craig N. Sawchuk, Ph.D., L.P., Chair, Division of Integrated Behavioral Health, Department of Psychiatry & Psychology at Mayo Clinic, joins me to engage in a discussion that will guide/encourage participants to think about what environmental wellness is and how it impacts their daily lives and well-being.

Environmental wellness encompasses not just your relationship with the planet and nature, but your relationship with your personal surroundings. When our personal surroundings are cared for, clean, and organized, we can experience greater comfort and less anxiety. In addition, this dimension of wellness involves being and feeling physically safe, in both our micro-environment (places we live, learn, work, etc.) and our macro-environment (our country, community, and the whole planet).

Thanks for listening! Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, X, LinkedIn and YouTube.

Visit our website: https://scsmh.education.uiowa.edu

(upbeat music)(upbeat music continues)(upbeat music continues)- Good evening, everyone. Welcome to the Scanlan Center School for Mental Health Educator Wellness Podcast. Welcome back. I'm your host Kari Vogelgesang where we meet to talk about all things educator wellness. This season we are focusing on our eight dimensions of wellness and really leaning into how we care for ourselves to care for others, and tonight, we have a special guest, Dr. Craig Sawchuk. I made sure I practiced that name. I wanted to make sure I was saying that correctly for this podcast, but Craig is joining us tonight to talk to us about environmental wellness, which I was just sharing with him is actually, one of my favorite dimensions of wellness to talk about. Mostly, because I'm really quite neurotic about how I keep my space,(Kari laughing) both in my office, on campus and here at home. So, I was teasing him that this was gonna be some kind of therapy session for me and unpacking why I'm so neurotic about the way I keep my own personal space,(Kari laughing) but hopefully, it's more than that for everyone else. So as I said, we're gonna talk about environmental wellness today, which really encompasses how we care for our environments that we live in and that we work in and that includes organization of our environment, cleanliness of our environment. It also, includes our relationship with the outdoors. And it also, lately, people who study wellness have been also exploring what safety means in this dimension of wellness and the feeling of safety and security that we get in our environment as well. and that's part of our environmental wellness. So, we're gonna talk more about all of those things with our expert guest today. He comes to us from the Mayo Clinic, and I'm gonna read a little bit of a bio about him. Dr. Sawchuk has published over 70 articles focused on behavioral and mental health. One area focused that relates to what we will be discussing this evening is his development of models to evaluate patient outcomes when receiving evidence-based care for anxiety and depression. Dr. Sawchuk has also examined and spoken about the impact of our environmental, that our environment has on our mental health or how our environment impacts our mental health. So welcome, Dr. Craig Sawchuk.- Great, thanks, Kari. Thank you very much for inviting me, and good shout out to our neighbors to the south in Iowa. I'm up here in Rochester, Minnesota, and one of my current psychology fellows trained at the University of Iowa. So, good shout out to folks down there, you have produce some great folks.- Yeah, I am so happy that you were able to join us. I was watching some other videos and I think even another podcast maybe that you had done before, and the stuff that you were talking about was really fascinating to me, and I hope that other educators will find it helpful to them as well. And even thinking about how they can talk about some of this information that we're gonna unpack tonight with their students in their classrooms. I think it is gonna be really, really interesting so.- Yeah, and hopefully, we can conquer two birds with one stone in terms of talk about some ways of looking at this and ideas of how we can manage it going forward and treating your neuroticism at the same time. So, we gotta work cut out for us for the podcast today.- Okay, we're on the same page now. That's exactly what we're using the session for.- Yeah.(Craig and Kari laughing) So, sit back and buckle in everybody.- Yeah, everybody buckle up. This is gonna be a good one. I actually, think it would be really hilarious to have my close family and friends in this room right now with us, because they would tell you so much about-- Yeah.- how I organize my environment in ways that they think are just ridiculous.- Again, we can work on that. There's some adaptive value to it, but as we'll probably talk in a little bit. At what point does it become too much of a good thing?- Yeah. and then, yeah, exactly. Well, I'm sure we'll talk a little bit more about it. Okay, let's actually start though. I'm gonna turn the tables a little bit.- All right.- Let's talk about you.- Okay.- I wanna just know a little bit about like how you got into this. Where did this start? How did your research like go down this path in exploring things related to environmental wellness? And how do you use this to help people that you work with in various ways in your life?- Right, right. So, a little bit on my background as some folks may have already picked up on some of the nuances that I'm Canadian, I'm originally from Vancouver, British Columbia. And as time has gone along, I've just always been super interested in the human condition. And when I did my undergraduate training at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, I majored in psychology and for folks that major in psychology we're usually involved in doing research and other things and got connected with a lab who needed research assistance in fear and anxiety. And as kind of like a young college kid, it's like, that sounds cool. I've learned a ton from my mentor at the time and really got passionate about not only how do we evaluate anxiety, but then what are some evidence-based treatments for that. And then that helped with my, it just like going off to graduate school and in graduate school I went to the most logical of places for somebody from Vancouver, British Columbia, and went to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Arkansas.- Totally makes sense.- Exactly.- I was definitely gonna guess that.- Yeah, talk about an environment that may not necessarily be as conducive for a Canadian, like tomato soup, humidity and everything.- Yeah,- It was not particularly bearable. However, I had a great mentor and really started to learn a lot more about evidence-based treatments for anxiety. And then folks find if they're in psychology, it's a little bit of a witness relocation program with our training and other things. And spent several years at the University of Washington in Seattle who really have done some groundbreaking work in models of treatment of depression in primary care. So, how do we move mental health treatments into the primary care setting? And my mentor that I was working with at the time did the same thing with anxiety disorders, and that's actually, what ultimately, brought me to Mayo Clinic. So as a clinical psychologist, I work actually 100% of the time right here in primary care. So, it's the delivery of mental health services in primary care where patients come. So, our goal with all the research that we've been doing is looking at how can we offer evidence-based treatments for anxiety, depression and other common mental health-related difficulties and behavioral health difficulties that show up in primary care, and how can we help promote those outcomes. So, we've done a lot of work in there, not only with primary care family medicine, but also our pediatric colleagues as well.- Okay, so how often does a person's environment come into play when you're working with a patient?- Yeah, always, always, always- On anxiety and depression.- and this plays and this is really an important role. I think that as mental health folks, we come into the mix, because there's the person, right? So, we think about maybe vulnerability and strengths with an individual person. We can think of their genetics, kind of personality style, kind of coping style as well too, and other health conditions they may be managing. But that interacts with the environment. And, again, the environments vary. They play a big role in kind of upregulating or downregulating an individual. The environment can provide facilitators for coping and can provide resources in all honesty for coping. And then also, the environment, unfortunately, can be built in a way where there's a lack of resource or it disproportionately impacts parts of our population make it much, much more difficult of dealing with the environment. And any of us on this podcast, every so often in our life, whether it be like at work or at school or in our neighborhood or sometimes our family, we come across a toxic individual and it only takes one person in our environment to really kind of shake us up. So, it's actually, it's really, really important when we're meeting with folks clinically on a day in and day out basis. Is really pay attention to the role that the environment is playing. Not only in maybe causing or triggering their distress, but also, how's the environment playing in a way that can actually, be leveraged to help them with their coping overall.- Sure, so that makes sense. So, this is my question. If you have somebody coming to you and they're saying they have let's say, an pretty intense anxiety or depression and you're talking to them and you're realizing, and maybe they're even realizing, or maybe they even know right off the bat that their professional environment that they're going in or that they're going to every day and that they're working in, is creating some serious challenges for them in terms of really striking, stirring up some really complicated feelings, some stress that's super unhealthy. What kind of advice do you give to those people when they're in a system that seems to be quite unhealthy for them?- Right, and this is where it's like really understanding, again, how that system impacts them. So, we think of, we move to a variety of environments in a given day. And if we think about all of us to a greater or lesser extent, we're always dealing with stressful things.- Right.- And stress isn't always a bad thing. There's ways that stress can help get us up and get us motivated and other things. But there's really two factors that I chat with patients about that determine how much stuff around us and our environment really kind of gets to us. One is predictability and the other's controllability, but that kind of falls on a continuum or quadrants of things ranging from being predictable to unpredictable, controllable to uncontrollable. And when things are more predictable, we can see them coming and they're more controllable. Like we feel like we've got the time, the resources, the wherewithal to deal with it. We can usually handle that and we can usually roll with that pretty good. It's when things start to slip into those other quadrants where either things kind of catch us off guard, they're the curve balls, they're more unpredictable, we didn't expect them to happen. Those things hit us harder. And then when things are uncontrollable, when things are being done to us rather than with us, or we don't have the time, the resource, the wherewithal, or it's like quote unquote bad fit in the environment. Those things actually hit us harder too. But this is where we see other parts of us, like as individuals personality-wise. Some people are like totally cool with being caught off guard as long as they can do something about it. And there's some people that honestly, can't be caught off guard by anything. And then likewise, some people seemingly dispositionally have this magical line in their mind, hey, this is what I can control and this is what I can't. They can seemingly let things go. And then there's other people's like, oh, it just gets to me. So, it's actually really, really important when we're really understanding the context for each individual. What role does the environment play? Because that will have big implications for what we're able to do treatment wise. So, this is where it can get really, really idiosyncratic or unique to that individual, because sometimes there's opportunities to say, hey, there may be ways that we can learn to improve that sense of predictability or controllability in the environment. There may be ways to change how we're engaging in the environment.- Yeah.- Setting things up differently. But then there's also, to be fair, sometimes they're in a toxic environment, so maybe we need to work on setting boundaries or there's this concept of functional avoidance. Maybe this isn't healthy for you to be around, so we need to talk about that. So again, it really depends upon the individual. There's not a one-size-that-fits-all approach.- Okay, so what about, okay, this is the thing. This is one of my big questions.- All right.- What, you're just, well, I think you already answered it, kind of, but I really feel like you're not giving me the answer that I want, so I'm gonna ask it again.- Yeah, we're trying to build suspense, right?- Okay, so when you're talking about, which this makes total sense to me so.- Yeah.- Like the predictability and the controllability of the environment and when you were talking specifically, if you're unable to predict or things kind of come blindside you, is that what that's called? Yeah, that's the right word, right?- Yeah, yeah.- And then, okay, I feel like sometimes probably the reason why I am so controlling over my environment and the way it's organized, and I have this cleaning routine on the weekends and I have this grocery shopping routine. My menus are planned a week in advance. I have a chalkboard in my dining room with a menu planned for that week. I lay out my clothes in a certain way every night, my running clothes and then my work clothes. I mean, I'm talking about, I have a very structured, very clean environment.- Yeah.- And people criticize this, criticize me all the time about this, about how rigid I am.- It's the messy people that are messing with you, right?- Oh yeah, they don't like me. They do not like this about me. But I'm wondering for people like me, maybe what we're doing is we're trying to overcompensate, because we like internally know that, if I can control this and predict all of these other things in my day that the things that I feel I don't have control over-- Right.- or that might surprise me. I feel like I can manage it better knowing that I'm still in control of my exercise routine. I'm still in control of the way my clothes were laid out.- Right, very much so.- Do you feel like that is probably the function of that behavior?- Yeah, and this is where we're getting now we're starting to get deep, Kari, this is awesome.- I know.- But it's actually, like the last statement that you mentioned is super important. Like what function does it serve? And not to sound like overly dry or clinical, but every single behavior serves a function. So, we think about, and I'm gonna take a bit of a step back here. All of these things are on a continuum. There are some folks on one end of the continuum where they're hyper organized, kind of the neat freak, kind of minimalistic, and they just like to have things just so. And then you kind of move into this normal distribution where you have people that kind of flex a lot.- Yeah.- Having some organization is good and they go through rounds, but they also, life takes over and they have competing demands and things get a little bit cluttered. And then you get, and the continuum on the other side where you start to get into more of the pack rat type of thing. And then on the more extreme end, hoarding disorder, which would actually be your kryptonite, which it sounds like.- Yeah.- So, but that's really important to kind of pay attention to those individual differences. It kind of falls on a continuum and just like a lot of traits and characteristics. We're bias towards one side of the continuum or other, and we shows some flexibility, but it serves the function. So, exactly what you're describing, like when things are a lot more organized, what function does it serve for people? You're right, it enhances predictability. It also enhances a sense of efficiency. So, we think of like cognitive efficiency. Like I don't have to like sit there and go, huh, huh, what do I wanna wear? Or where is this again? So, there's a lot of efficiencies that actually really get built with that. And it is one of those ways that kind of maps on to a general, like predisposition towards, it's not that I'm controlling, but it's more like I like to have that sense of predictability and controllability. So, it can function really, really well in that context. Now, and again, the same thing can be said when we jump to the other side of the continuum. When people just have that clutter around them, it's like, yeah, whatever type of thing. And they may have like a really cluttered area, but they seemingly have this mental map where they know everything is, or they're like, eh, I'll figure it out once I get there, kind of thing.- Yeah.- And it's just like, this is what makes people really interesting. You've got this continuum, but it's really important what you mentioned is what function does it serve? But as something I mentioned a little bit earlier on, at what point does it become too much of a good thing? So, when people start transition out into an environment, so I really like in my personal space, so the macro or micro environments that you're talking about, like the places that we own our territory, like my home or my office. When I step outside of that and I kind of start to interact with spaces that are maybe on the other side of the continuum, honestly, it's sometimes at a neurobiologic level we start to feel uncomfortable.- Yes.- It can be like, oh, this is just like, hmm, I just wanna fix this, or wanna go. And sometimes, we get that feeling and it's at a very automatic biologic level. I always try to think about it at what point of does it become too much of a good thing in which it starts to cause us problems in day-to-day living? And what point in time does it start to cause like impairments, like a time suck. We're spending so much time trying to organize or we're so buried in our clutter that we're not able to take care of other things in our life. That's where once we get to the extremes and we run into inflexibility, that's where we can start to run into issues that might be good to work on.- So, I'm hearing there could be room for improvement.- That's the human spirit.(Craig and Kari laughing) We can always get better, we can always get more flexible with things.- No, it makes total sense. And I love that you are like really emphasizing that there's just no one size fits all kind of model. Like we really have to think about our own individual needs and the function of our behavior and what kind of environments we're trying to work in and what kind of work we're trying to produce. And I think that that's always really important to keep in mind, but it's just really individual. Let's slide a little bit away from like the organization of space into nature. So, we talk a lot about nature and the benefits that nature can bring us, if we spend time out in nature. Now, I am more of an indoor pet kind of a gal, but I will have to say that lately some of my work has been taking me to both Norway and Finland and they have incredible outdoor education programs that I've been able to witness and even take part of when I visit there. And I do have to say, it is really transformational to see this happen, to see people learning in the outdoors and to see what kind of actually, like sometimes they're in the outdoors and they're kind of high energy and they're really kind of going all over the place, but then what kind of peace that can actually bring them at the back end of that experience as well. So anyway, when you are working with people, do you ever suggest leaning more into spending more time outdoors or in what kind of maybe is that helpful? Is there enough research to support that that's a really, that's a big benefit.- Yeah, oh, very much so. And if you truly think about it, we actually, come from the outdoors. If you think of like our remote, super remote genetics, we are pre-wired to actually, come from the outdoors. And there's something, and I'm sure all of us can attest to this, is there's something very grounding of being in the outdoors and you just think of what is grounding? It's kind of like helps to anchor us in the present moment. A lot of times our brain is not naturally hardwired to be centered like that, because of just like the busyness of things that go on. We got these things called our frontal lobes that are constantly thinking about the future or kind of reprocessing things from the past. So, this idea that the outdoors provides a lot of sensory feedback to us in terms of the novel and unique things that we see. The novel and unique things that we can feel and hear and even smell or provide that it's not poisonous, taste. So it really maximizes our senses and there's great treatment outcomes from mindfulness and acceptance based research that having these grounding exercises that are super portable that really utilize our senses can be extremely helpful. And then you put it in the natural environment, the novelty. And then this is kind of ironic, the novelty of being back in nature just really can help ground ourselves. Now, we can interrupt or interfere with that experience. So, I go on a hike in the woods and I'm like connected to my phone, how helpful is that gonna be? So, it's gonna cause some interference there. So, there's these kind of almost seemingly as our society has developed to become progressively more technical or progressively more like we have to be on seemingly all the time. Then it is quite an experience when people actually, can give themselves like a fair experiment to say, you know what? I'm gonna turn off the phone or I'm just gonna leave it. I'm not even gonna bring it with me and allow ourselves to go through the experience of it. Just how naturally it's just kind of like slows down, that slow sympathetic nervous system. Exactly, and a lot of times that people give themselves that opportunity that could be a very profound learning experience. And that can turn into something that then, like you think of like a behavioral prescription, we may not be able to be in the fjords of Norway all the time. It would be like a sweet deal, wouldn't it?- Yeah, right.- But how can we approximate that, even if it's just like a little bit of a dosing either in a given day or in a given week that can help center us. So, that's an extremely important thing, but it's a great way that we're looking at how the environment can play a role in helping to settle us at multiple levels, but also, how the reverse can be true. How the environment can be built or create so much clutter or so much sensory input that it's actually hard for us to be able to settle down. So, the environment, natural environment, is a huge, huge plus from a mental health perspective.- And isn't it interesting that one of the things that I think is so fascinating is we know this, right? Like we know that going out in nature and in disconnecting to our phones and social media and the immediacy of people like just needing us.- Yeah.- Like all the time is just so overwhelming, but it's still so hard for us to do. When we come home, it's like the last thing I always say to myself like, oh my God, I don't wanna go for a walk tonight. But then of course, as soon as I do it and as soon as I get back, then I am so happy that I did it and it feels so good. I just always think it's fascinating that even then when we know how good something is for us and we feel good after we do it, it's still so hard to do sometimes.- Yeah, yeah. Well, the good thing is you're human and behavior change can be hard and sustaining behavior change can be hard. So, we kind of think about it, hey, with all of us exercise more, eat better, sleep better. Yeah, I mean all of us would be doing better. Go out for a walk, get into nature more without a doubt. But it's also like appreciating that, again, changing behaviors can be hard. And sometimes there are, or we get through or we get into different times in our life where it's more challenging to do those things. But it is really good when you highlight there, Kari, when we actually, do something and it makes us feel good to actually, like jot that down, write that down.- That when I do this, it makes me feel better. So, it can help as our own kind of bit of a motivational thing. And sometimes, there are other things that we can build in that can be, that can help facilitate that. Like again, we're social animals, so making ourselves a little bit more accountable, so like having a walking buddy or other things like that as well too. So, we can kind of lean on each other to be able to kind of help us out with doing those things. But sometimes, again, internally, we can feel, ah, I know if I do it, but I'm like so tired. But sometimes, getting it on literally, on this side of our eyeballs that we're looking at it and it's in our own words that, okay, I know if I just push myself initially, it's kind of gonna suck or it's gonna be a little hard to kind of get going, but then once I get going and actually, makes me feel better rather than worse. So sometimes, just writing out just a little brief statement like that of what actually happens when I do it. We kind of look on it out of the side of our eyeballs and that can actually, help us sometimes give us that little extra nudge that can help us get connected with something that can actually, really help us out. Because oftentimes, that's sometimes, the least things that we do. We spend all of our time taking care of everybody else. But kind of taking care of ourselves, part of the human condition. We kind of leave that for last.- Yeah, yeah, I think that is a really great strategy that you just shared with us. And I can see people using that strategy in multiple ways actually. And even teaching it to students. I think that that's it's just very doable to be able to write that out and look at it and make better choices for ourselves for sure.- And you already disclosed, you've got a chalkboard in your house so you can like chalkboard it on there.- I do, I love my chalkboard. It actually, came out of the old chemistry building here at the University of Iowa when they were doing a remodel. It's one of those really big, huge boards. I love it so much. Sometimes my boys draw inappropriate things on the chalkboard, but it's okay, it's okay.- Austrian creativity. And it sounds like you can use a little bit of unpredictability and uncontrollability in your life just to kind of build some of that flexibility in there.- Yeah, maybe this, maybe it's my children that have made me be this way. Gosh darn it. Okay. Okay, so, oh, I was, well no, I think you kind of already talked about that. I was gonna ask you a specific question about is there a difference between urban surroundings and natural surroundings? Which I know that I've read a couple articles about this about like, do you need to go into a space that's like 100% natural? Like the woods or is walking around in an urban setting, can that be just as grounding to somebody?- Yeah, and actually, that's I think a really good point for us to just briefly touch on, because this concept of grounding that we talked about actually, can be used anytime, anywhere. And then we also think about individual differences as well too. Some people going into a natural environment may not always be the best fit for them. It may not necessarily be as interesting for them, or let's just maybe say they struggle with allergies and I actually, help people with this, what if they're like an insect phobia?- Yeah.- So, they're like on guard the whole time and they do well in the concrete jungle, so to speak. So, once again, it like really speaks to the individual differences,'cause beauty can be found in almost any environment. But we also, wanna look at this person environment fit. And again, as we transition with different environments, how can it operate? So, for somebody where it's like, you know what, for me I just like being in the big city. I like the kind of the stimulation and the noise and the sounds of the sirens going on in the background. For some people that may be like, ugh, that's the worst thing. I don't want that. And then for other people it's like, I miss that, and it just kind of like can have this, these cues or triggers, these sensory things, even though it may sound busier, cluttering to other people for other people can kind of be settling. So, that's where it's always really important as we get back to the role of the individual and the same kind of skill, like the same kind of skill of doing mindfulness grounding exercise. We could do it in the busiest to busiest environments and the most quietest and natural of environments as well too. It just depends on does it work for that individual?- Oh my gosh, I think that is so interesting. I'm so happy you came on tonight.- Well, it certainly beats saying, you know what, that's really boring. That's not interesting at all. So, make for an excruciating podcast, eh?- No, I've always really wondered about that.- Yeah.- I've always really wondered when people will say like, I have some friends who live in Chicago and a friend who lives in New York and they'll say like, oh, I went for a long walk and now I feel better. And I think to myself, well, I know where you live.- Yeah.- And it's pretty chaotic.- Yep.- Well, like for them it's just maybe it's not.- Yeah, and there is like, once again, there's flexibility and adaptability and that's, once again, it's like an important thing of just being human that we are built to adapt to our environment. And again, some folks able to adapt easier than others. But yeah, I was just thinking about this like even in my own transition from Vancouver, British Columbia, I loved the city and I loved the lights like a horrible sleeping environment. Like I'd always have the city lights, my wife and I would have coffee at like 11 o'clock at night,'cause there's like Starbucks everywhere. And that's just kind of what we did. And then when we moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas for graduate school, it was funny for the first while it was too quiet.- I bet.- It was like too quiet and we had a hard time sleeping, because our body and our brain was not used to those kind of cues or in essence lack thereof. So it, because graduate school is four years, we were marinating in that. So, we adapted to it over time. And so, we've got like a little bit of our flexibility kind of came into there, but I think that's also an important thing, whether we find ourselves in life, we can be nomadic and we end up in different areas. That's also part of the human spirit is that we can adapt and accommodate to things over time. But it's always important to do that kind of self-reflection and gut check in terms of what are the environments for me that are good fit for me? What are things that are facilitators? What are things that do help me stay more grounded?- Yeah, I'm sure that was quite an adjustment for you when you moved for you and your wife.- Yeah, it wasn't just the humidity.- It wasn't just the humidity.- I don't think I ever a adjusted or adapted to that. So, there's limits to the human condition, I guess.- It was every single part of the environment.- Yeah, totally.- Okay, we are gonna get into a little bit of a topic now that I think is very sensitive right now, in particularly, in the United States. And it's really around safety. And I have to say before we start talking about it that this is such a triggering word for people right now. It's just such a loaded word. Like what is safety? What does safety mean? Why do you think that this is safe more, why this person is safe and this person isn't safe? And so, I know I wanna recognize that there are bias in the way that we think about safety. Sometimes, there are cultural differences. There are differences that go along with life experiences. So, I want to like make sure that we also, when we are talking about safety, that we're recognizing that we recognize.- Right.- That it's a complex issue and word when we're talking about it. But particularly, right now, when we look at survey data, like through our NEA, our state education agencies, when we look at survey data through our center and we are having teachers report that one of the reasons why they're leaving the profession is because a feeling that they're not safe.- Right.- Physically and emotionally.- Right.- So, they indicate both to us, they're not emotionally safe, they're not physically safe. So, describe to us a little bit about what that means in a person's environment. So when you feel like you're walking into a situation where you're like either physically safe or emotionally unsafe, what does that do to your body?- Right, right. So, I wanna back up for a second, and just acknowledge exactly what you brought up, Kari, which is I think a really important thing,'cause we think of originally safety just felt like a very physical and that's all it is. And then just as safety in and of itself is an alive concept and it's an evolving concept. So, when you think about emotional safety or psychological safety and other things like that that's been expanding know over time. And then another layer that's important that you brought up is it's also subjective. So, this is where what one person may view as being a safe environment, another person very legitimately looking at the exact same thing and being in the exact same environment may feel like they're walking on a minefield. And that's why when we come back to, as you say, differences in our own backgrounds and our learned experience that kind of shape perceptions of safety and lack thereof, or once again, really important when we understand the individual. So, remember earlier we were talking about being in nature and one of the things that's really about nature is that it's really unique and can be really novel and it holds our attention. And our brain is naturally hardwired for two things. One is novelty. Our brain likes new and different stuff and it captures our attention, things that kind of stand out. But secondly, it's threat. So, we're actually, hardwired for threat. And it's very adaptive and that's really important that we have this as part of us, it's a survival mechanism. But we're very hardwired to threat and it impacts our information processing. And again, this is like not even thinking about it. It impacts our information processing in three ways. One, are attentional biases. We are just like hyper-vigilant to threat in our environment. So, if you take like an example of somebody who's a spider phobic, it's remarkable how they can detect a spider that's 25 yards behind them up on the wall. Just that intentional bias. Then there's memory biases. So, once the threat detection system goes off, we're not only responding or reacting to that in the moment, but all other memories that are similar to that situation come up right away. And this is just exactly what emotions do. They bring up these memories, so memory biases. And then third and final, are what are called interpretive biases. That we're much more likely when we're facing uncertainty that we're much more likely to interpret something as being threatening. Even if it's neutral or could be looked at, at other ways. So, these interpretive biases come into play. So, we get back to our example of the spider phobic. If there's a crumpled up piece of thread on the floor, a spider phobic may like instantaneously it's like, that's a spider. It's like, well maybe it is, maybe it's not. Let me go check it out. So, that tendency to interpret things as being more threatening is really impacted by it. So, we think of like at the raw neurobiologic level, the threat detection center of our brain gets activated. And that's the amygdala. It's a primal part of our brain. Again, super protective of us and we want it to be reactive.- Sure.- But actually, kind of what happens over time with experiences and other things is sometimes that threat detection system can almost become miswired in some ways. So, in one way it can get miswired is that when the alarm goes off, it goes off too loudly. So, we feel like we're having a panic attack. Literally, our heart is pounding out of our chest. We are like so on edge, it's hard to settle down. Sometimes, when the alarm goes off, it goes off too long. It just, we can't settle ourselves down once we get triggered. And then sometimes it's a false alarm that we may be in an objectively safe environment, yet, we're experiencing it as being unsafe. So, this is why like, when we're looking at what's safe, what's not safe, there's a lot of these other factors that kinda come into play. The last thing that I wanna highlight too and when you give this like really unfortunate example, and I see this a lot clinically as well too, that people they're really genuinely dedicated to their profession. So, we take our educators, they've are just such an important part of our fabric and there's absolutely zero question. They are underappreciated and underpaid for the absolute core mission that they provide to educating our population. The folks are leaving this.- Yeah.- Which can just be gut-wrenching, because of like perceptions of safety and the changes in dynamic. So, we think of for good or for bad, media has played a huge role.- Yeah.- In this is that we are inundated with threat. And remember, we're naturally hardwired for threat and threat sells. It kinda captures our attention. So really sadly, when we're hearing about all the violence that's been going on in schools, objectively, that has increased over time. But also, the coverage of that has increased exponentially over time. So, it is like right there. So, we're kind of caught up in this current sociocultural trap in many ways where the threat always follows us. We're marinating in it sometimes.- Yeah.- And that has a wear and tear on a person's physical self. It has a wear and tear on them psychologically and emotionally as well too. And when we get back into the space of predictability and controllability, and especially, I think with our educators who have been in the field for like a long time, they've been in the field for a couple or maybe even a handful of decades, they've seen this evolution.- Yeah.- You know, over time of what they used to think threatening 30 years ago is like nothing in comparison to what it may be now or the types of things maybe they used to deal with 30 years ago are nowhere close to the types of things they're having to deal with now. And we also think about like one of the scariest far and away the most scariest thing are active shooters.- Yeah.- That just think about what's happened now the schools and teachers and staff and students are being trained in active shooter drills. Like remember the day when the drills that we did were fire drills?- Yeah.- You know? And now doing active shooters, that's a very different level psychologically to people to go through. And we're always trying to find this balance of what are reasonable precautions that we need to work with. But I think this is realistically these have been some pretty significant sociocultural changes that have happened over time that have really changed the dynamic of the perception of threat in our most important institutions, which are our schools.- Yeah. I think, you really hit the nail on the head. I mean, it's not that we don't want coverage, we of course, want coverage of these events. It's important, and also like the constant coverage is not always really great for us in terms of our health.- Yeah.- I mean, I think back to even like 9/11, I can remember I had just had a baby in July and then 9/11 happened obviously, in September.- Yeah.- And I was actually living in Portland, Oregon at the time, but what you were saying was just like taking me back to that moment, that memory piece, because you just, it's like I couldn't stop watching it.- Right.- It's just like on repeat. But then I got to the point where I was, there's a World Trade Center in Portland too, and we were living right downtown in Oregon.- Right.- And I was like, I can't walk him anywhere near there. Then remember like the anthrax like-- Yep.- in the mail. Then I was like, I can't go to the post office. I mean, I started having these like really irrational fears about it, but mostly, it was because I was just consuming it like 24/7. I was home with this infant.- Yep, yep.- I just consumed it.- Yeah. And it's kind of an unintended thing that happens in many ways. So, we take a bit of a step back and remember how news used to come. Well, you would have to wait till the paper showed up at the end of the day or six o'clock news. And very rarely, all of a sudden breaking news would come on. And that would be like, oh my goodness, what's going on?- What's going on?- But now, the news is ubiquitous. Like not only with TV but with our tablets, with our phones, that basically follow us wherever we go. We're always plugged in and then it's almost like rare that we don't see news that has breaking news red banner all over it.- Always.- But again, that there's always this balance. So, remember threat and novelty. So, when something like 9/11 happens.- Yeah.- That is the worst of both worlds right there. It is ultra threatening and ultra novel. So, it totally captures us. And then to a certain extent, it's good to know and to be aware of what's going on, but just like how we were talking about some other things earlier today. At what point does it become too much of a good thing?- Yeah.- At what point do we really kind of get drawn into it? And at the time when the pandemic really hit there was also, remember there and still is the case, there are sociopolitical unrest, racial tensions kind of going on. And all of this was happening at a time where there was just so much uncertainty that was going on. And it's, again, it's that balance between it's good to be informed and it's good to be connected up to a certain point. And at what point is it starting to have a toxic influence, literally, a toxic influence on us where both neurobiologically and psychologically and behaviorally, it's maybe starting to create some problematic changes for us.- Yeah. It's that thing, especially with our phones, really monitoring our use and how much time we're tuned in to that device. And it just seems to be more and more and more of a challenge all the time.- Right.- It's something we're definitely gonna have to like really get a handle on, I think over these next few years that's for sure. Particularly, phone usage in schools. I think that's gonna be continue to be something that we, and how that manipulates and changes our environment will be something we continue to talk about. Okay, so let's do one final question here. If you were going to give some recommendations to a school or to school administrators or to teachers in terms of creating healthy environments for themselves, what piece of advice would you give them?- Well, we could probably go on for an hour with some.- I mean, the best one.- Yeah, so the best ones. Yeah, we'll get rid of the useless ones as well too.(Kari laughing)- Except for one.- Yeah, exactly. We'll save the worst answer for last. But again, I know it sounds like a bit of a broken record, but it's gonna be pretty idiosyncratic to these places. But I think, some important like broad take homes. One, is the reasonable precautions type of approach. And I think that this is like important that time only moves in one direction, and things change and things evolve. And as we've talked about today, objective threats do change and evolve as do our subjective interpretation and response to those threats change. So, there's always gonna be like someplace for what are reasonable precautions that we need to take. And that's why when we talk about the evolution of fire drills to now active shooter drills, there's some reasonable precautions that come into play. Secondly, it's also, like reminding ourselves is that even these absolutely horrific things that happen, that they are still of the absolute lowest probability. So, we think of that there's this pyramid of catastrophe and probability. And at the top end of the pyramid is the worst case catastrophe at the bottom end of the pyramid over here is like boring things. And then on this side of probability, the top end is the lowest probability and the wide bottom end is the most likely. So, most things in life fall in this pyramid that driving from point A to point B, it's gonna be boring. I'm gonna get there. The most likely outcome is the most boring outcome.- Sure.- And then the further we go up the pyramid, the more catastrophic or worst case scenario the outcome is, but also, it's the least likely thing to happen.- Sure.- So, it's really important that we remind ourselves and then we actually have to be pretty deliberate with this, is that these worst case scenarios, while they can still happen, so never gonna deny that they can't happen. We have to remind ourselves they are also the least likely things to happen as well too. So, it's kind of like reworking that threat detection system and I know there's some wisdom in prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.- Yeah.- But once again, that can be taken sometimes to an extreme that sensitizes folks to this. The third thing and the last thing that I'll kind of mention is really good kind of overarching things. And I wanna talk about this from a school administrative standpoint is making sure that there are resources, time, that's actually, built into things that help people decompress or that create a sense of community, that create a sense of good and that sense of engagement. Because I think and this has been I think a really big lesson learned over the course of the pandemic. That over the pandemic healthcare places like Mayo has been said, hey, you need to exercise better and be resilient and sleep more and do this, that, and the other. That takes work.- Yeah.- And we wanna avoid blaming the victim here. We have to look at how the system can work to create space to dedicate time, dedicate curriculum, which I know is like, that's valuable. Time is valuable, but dedicate legitimate time, space and resource to these things that can lead to some decompression that can build that sense of community, that can have that sense of goodwill, because that's our nature as well too. We just have to work harder for it, and that's a reality. When we talk about the brain is naturally hardwired for novelty and threat, we do have to work harder to focus in on what's going well or we do have to work harder in cultivating those other things. And the environment, again, can play a role in helping to facilitate that rather than putting that on the backs of teachers, find a way you gotta do it. Or students make sure you're practicing resiliency and we'll see you tomorrow kind of thing. It's gotta be part of our culture and part of the fabric or part of the curriculum. Because if we value it much like how we would with Science or Math or English, when we value it and we really put the time and the effort behind those values, then we're actually, building resiliency. Then we're actually, looking at the role, the important role, that an environment or a system can make and truly investing in that.- Oh my gosh, I am literally going to play what you just said on repeat over and over and over again, because I've been preaching this too for so, so long. In terms of creating systems of wellness that really support the health and the wellbeing of our teachers and our students. And I think we've gotten into this trap of more, more, more, more, more. So that we can like catch up on learning loss and we can get ahead of the game in terms of reading goals and math goals and we just keep adding and we have to collect more data about all of our students in various ways and families in various ways. And we just keep adding more and more and more when in actuality, I go back to, I was raised in a sports family. My dad was a track coach and athletic director and cross country coach and there is such a thing as over-training.- Right.- You get to a point where you're training too much and you're doing the wrong types of training. And you and your performance is gonna plummet and I feel like that is where we're at in our education system right now. That we just keep adding more and more and more. And what we actually need to do is the exact opposite of that. We need to have less academic time, we need to have more structured time or space where we are doing exactly what you just said. We're coming together as a community, we're doing mindfulness practices together, we're doing play, play-based education.- Yep.- I think we would see way better results if we did, if we had flexible schedules, if we took out some of the tests that we're required to do. Our kids are being worked to death and so are educators and we're over-training.- Yeah, that's actually, yeah, that's a excellent analogy that you gave and it kind of harkens back to a couple of things that we've talked about today. At what point is it too much of a good thing? Like it totally makes sense. We want our kids to be successful, we wanna really get in and help train up the brain and give them the knowledge and the tools that are helpful, but at what point does it become too much of a good thing? And then there's another kind of wisdom that sometimes less is more. And I put an asterisk with that, because when we say less is more, we don't wanna like downplay like playtime that's useless or that building in flexibility in schedules or other kind of curricular thing. We're not trying to look at it, it's less than sure these other things, but what you're saying is it helps to balance out. And we also think of brain health as well too. All these other things like say creativity or building a sense of community or other things like that too, help to strengthen up other parts of the brain. And especially, when we're young. You get to an age like me and your brain starts to slow down.- Yeah.- That when we're young, we're really plastic. We've got a lot of that flexibility. And actually, there's a lot to be said about how we can cultivate brain health in our folks. And when we do have a little bit more of a balance or a salad bar, it can actually help, as you say, actually, be more efficient with taking in the more academic-- It absolutely.- parts of our learning. It really can. So, it's always this balancing act and it's a moving target and there's a lot of systems, things in play. But hey, doesn't that give us something to do to try to work it out.- Yeah. Well, you know what? We could maybe solve all the world's problems together, if we continue this podcast.- We hit 1,336 of them today, so we did pretty good.- Yeah, we did, we did a really good job. Well, I just wanna thank you so much for joining us this evening. It was really a pleasure to spend this time with you and get to talk to you and share some of your wisdom with all of all of our educators who listened to this podcast. So thank you, Craig, I really mean it.- Great. Well, thank you again so much for having me this evening, Kari.- Yeah, yeah, well, bye everyone. We'll hope to see you next May or I guess that's just next month. Sorry about that. So, in May we will be having an organization join us called Breathe For Change. And they do mindfulness and yoga and social-emotional behavioral health training for specifically, for educators. So, we're gonna have them on and we're gonna pick their brains about the different things that we can do through our summer months to restore and rejuvenate ourselves before we head into the academic season of 2023, 2024. So, I hope to see you next month. Good night, everyone.- Good night.