It is OK to be Exhausted and Overwhelmed Right Now

I have long been a fan of David Rock. I think he does an amazing job of boiling down the complex advancements in neuroscience into usable language and concepts. For me, that means he gives those of us without complex knowledge of our brain a glimpse into how our own brain works. As a bonus, if we start to begin to understand how our brain works then tangentially we can begin to understand how the brains of those we are serving work as well. DOUBLE WIN!!

A few months ago, a colleague of mine, Carol Kilver, sent over some of Rock’s work from 2008 that had just avoided me somehow. And it has blown my mind. The work shared with me highlights Rock’s  SCARF Model. Through this model Rock attempts to show what triggers are brains to act, react, and potentially overreact in social settings and scenarios thereby directly influencing our behavior. The five domains of the model are explained below:

  1. Status – our relative importance to others.
  2. Certainty – our ability to predict the future.
  3. Autonomy – our sense of control over events.
  4. Relatedness – how safe we feel with others.
  5. Fairness – how fair we perceive the exchanges between people to be.

There are literally thousands of pages of the neuro-nuggets for anyone to find and peruse if you so choose, but I will try to synthesize my ah-hah moment for you in about 500 words. As soon as I saw the domains laid out it was as if every “Mind Blown GIF” possible was directly in front of me. If these are five areas that Rock asserts activate the same threat and reward responses in our brain that we rely on for physical survival – then no wonder so many educators are in crisis right now.

Let me explain . . . I have had a hard time understanding why as the finish line approaches OR is just now in the rearview mirror, why mental and emotional crises are happening now. For me in my particular district and circle of friends, not only are they happening now, but happening at the greatest level of any time throughout the past 15 months. Common sense, I thought, would have indicated that people could finally relax. I was dead wrong. The SCARF model finally showed that to me.

What is happening is not that people are seeing the finish line and able to glide into summer. Instead, people are seeing the finish line and then emerging from a months long fight or flight scenario and are absolutely mentally fatigued (at best).

Let me paint the picture more clearly by thinking about the five domains listed above and how they have applied for educators throughout this school-year.

STATUS – Educators went from heroes to being demonized for not being in the classroom to criticized for not doing enough when they were doing more than ever before. All in the matter of months if not weeks.

CERTAINTY – Education is a relatively ‘certain’ space. We typically know for the most part what our job is and how the year will flow. Every piece of certainty was ripped from our psyche this year.

AUTONOMY – At every level, even district and state level leadership, crucially important decisions were being made on our behalf. Autonomy was all but lost.

RELATEDNESS – Schools were pitted against each other as learning models were different zip code to zip code. Moreover, given the political tension and wildly different beliefs on the health front, people had no idea who was their ally anymore. In previous years, most colleagues were collegial and friendly and someone we enjoyed small talk with on Taco Tuesday in the staff lounge. Now, small talk could turn ugly at any second.

FAIRNESS – Now, this extends beyond education – but what about how the social dynamics of this past year has been fair for anyone?

The point of this blog is not simply to admire a problem. I hate doing that. But, it is also not to propose a solution. The bottom line is that I know a lot of people really struggling mentally right now. Many, for the first times in their lives.

Common sense implies that if that is the case, many more are suffering in silence. So, the point in writing this blog was that I wanted to help normalize the conversation BUT I also wanted to help people start to understand that their reactions AND exhaustion AND anxiety is normal. Even, if you are like me, and thought that experiencing this angst right now might not make rational sense, it certainly does when examining it through the domains of the SCARF model.

Be well.