New Club Aims To Support Mental Health

The Self Care Club met for the first time on Friday, December 10. This was just the beginning of the program, with big plans for its future already in the works. Media Advisor Heather Nichols decided to sponsor the club here at PHS with the help of fellow staff members and resilience coach Kara Schmidt.

Teachers have witnessed their students’ emotional distress these past two years and realized something needed to be done about it.

Teachers Laurie Jo Andry, Carol Fullington, Melissa Higgins, Crystal Shellenberger, Maria Wishart along with Nichols have taken part in yoga classes led by Schmidt to try and relieve some of their own stress. These classes have been held on Thursdays in the PHS choir room since late September and have proven to be positive experiences for teachers. This success prompted them to think bigger.

“We all talked about it and were like the kids need this. We have so many kids in this building who don’t process their emotions. They don’t know how to handle things. They’re crying at random things that don’t seem like things they should be crying about,” said Nichols.

While Nichols believes it is healthy for everyone to have a good cry every now and then, what she sees from students at school seems to be troubling. The Self Care Club is meant to be a solution to this issue. The goal is to give students the mental and physical tools they need to get through difficult situations. These tools consist of breathing techniques, tension-releasing stretches and knowledge. Schmidt will teach students about their bodies’ nervous systems and how to regulate them in order to calm down. The main goal of the club is to help students understand the power they hold in their reactions to stressful situations and hardships.

“The nervous system and brain are very changeable, especially for young people. Having this information about their mental health, and practicing ways to strengthen their resilience regularly, can actually reshape and strengthen the brain and nervous system in a positive way that will help them be able to handle stresses more effectively for the rest of their lives,” said Schmidt.

Schmidt wants this club to be a source of community, safety, and empowerment for students. The meetings will be a place where students can feel comfortable enough to be themselves and have a
good time, a place where they can take a break from the stress of school and life in general. She
would like to use the opportunity to guide students into becoming more courageous, compassionate, self-aware people who are prepared for difficult situations.

While the Self Care Club is new to PHS, it is not an entirely new concept. Schmidt has worked with students at Orleans Junior Senior High School as well as students at Throop Elementary. There, Schmidt incorporates certain staples into each session. These staples include stress-level and emotional observation check-ins as well as a variety of practices. Schmidt does a different practice during each meeting, alternating between Focused Attention Practice, Relaxation Practice,
Self-Compassion Practice and Gratitude Practice. Such elements will likely be integrated into the Self Care Club.

With all of the work she does regarding mental and emotional health, it is no surprise that helping youth and adults alike with their struggles is something very personal to Schmidt.

“I do this because when I was a teenager, I didn’t know how to support my mental health. This led to me feeling pretty bad about myself all through high school and into college. I thought that there
was something wrong with me. And I acted out and made some really poor choices. I feel lucky to have gotten through those tough years without more harm to myself or others,” said Schmidt.

She has created spaces of comfort and neutrality because she feels as though they would have been helpful to her young self who had similar problems. Schmidt credits her success in finding healthier ways to deal with stress, anxiety and depression to yoga, breathing exercises and mindfulness tools she learned over the years. Though she admits she still has difficulty with her mental health on occasion, Schmidt feels her knowledge has helped her to better cope with it. She is passionate about sharing what she has learned in order to help others through their own adversities.

“We know that if one’s nervous system is in a high stress state, that it is really hard for the brain to learn as effectively as it could. Memorizing information, taking tests and making good decisions are more challenging for those dealing with chronic overwhelm. My hope is that schools like Paoli and Orleans choose to make nervous system education and these kinds of tools for mental health a high priority,” said Schmidt.

The club meets during homeroom on Fridays. Use Google Classroom code extovt4 to join. The club meets during homeroom on Fridays.

Story by Masden Embry

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