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Trauma Explored Through the Lens of Toxic Stress....

These days have been referred to using terms like ‘unprecedented ’, ‘the new normal ’, ‘extraordinary ’. These are all perhaps true but I would like to talk for a moment about another term that I’ve been hearing frequently. Trauma. Being trauma informed or trauma sensitive is front of mind for many educators and others working in the human services field. I feel that to be trauma informed or trauma sensitive we first must come to a common understanding of what this means. Language can be a fickle thing and when we use a term such as trauma we run the risk of everyone having a different interpretation or understanding of what this means.

I am not an expert in being trauma informed or trauma sensitive but it is something that I have thought about over the past years. When I think about traumatic events that cause lasting impact, I think about the fact that two people can experience the exact same event but have two completely different reactions. I find it useful to think about toxic stress in understanding the difference. Events in life can be positive, tolerable or toxic. Positive stress is good for us and children should experience this stress as it prepares their systems to handle bigger stresses that will inevitably come. Some big stresses can be tolerable or toxic depending on the supportive buffering networks an individual has in their life. Death of a loved one or experiencing a natural disaster are big stresses. If there are caring adults available to help mitigate the stress, the stress will be hard but will not likely have long lasting negative outcomes. When the same events happen in the absence of caring supportive adults the child has no way to process the event and will feel that they are in danger because of the lack of buffering. In this instance the event is a traumatic event.

In the past number of months, we have all been experiencing the stress of COVID 19. For the majority of our students and colleagues the stress has been tolerable. It is scary and uncertain but we have faith that we will be okay. A small percentage of students and colleagues are dealing with life circumstances that makes the additional stress of COVID a toxic stress. They were dealing with big stress before the pandemic. The isolation and uncertainty that has come as a result of the pandemic has exacerbated the impact of this toxic stress.

We don’t know for certain what our students, their families, our colleagues have dealt with or are dealing with as we learn to live with COVID 19 nor do we have to. What we need to do is to assume that people we interact with from day to day may be struggling. We need to be gracious. We need to see the person and understand that what we may perceive as an overblown reaction may be coming from prior experiences that make a seemingly innocuous event scary for them. We need to step back, take a deep breath and be willing to accompany others on their journey without judgement or blame. We also need to know when we don’t have enough in our own tank to provide the support that is needed. Being able to recognize when we are spent and need to tap out puts us in a stronger position when we re enter. Some of our students are having a hard time understanding what is going on in their bodies and when big stresses occur they don’t have the skills to navigate the world. These children need us to be the calming influence that they can rely on. As caring adults, the most effective buffering that we can provide children and youth is a supportive healthy relationship.

Michelle MacKinnon,

Director Support Services

Holy Spirit Catholic School Division

Usually that question is pretty innocent and is answered with a quick, fine. Since the lockdown in March 2020, somedays we’re doing just fine and somedays, well, we’re not doing fine. Now, more than ever, we have to lean on each other and know that it’s okay not to be okay. As an employee of Holy Spirit Catholic schools we have extended benefits through ASEBP. Included in these benefits is the Employee and Family Assistance Program which provides confidential support in counselling and family support services among many other supports.
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Parent Isolation Survey Summary Infographic Spring 2020

This survey was assembled by University of Lethbridge and Building Brains Together researchers in order to learn about the experiences of parents and families in the Lethbridge area as they respond to the ongoing realities of Covid-19.

Parent Isolation Survey Summary Infographic Spring 2020

Great Resources Below!

Learn How Not To Bubble Wrap Kids!


If you’ve paid attention to the media recently, you might now believe that any stress is bad for a child’s physical and mental health, that stress has reached epidemic proportions, that you need to do everything you can to reduce the amount of stress in your life and that various products from supplements to special water to squeeze balls will decrease your child’s stress and make them healthy.

Breathe- An Emotional Regulation Program Built for Holy Spirit Catholic Schools

Breathe” is designed to teach students to identify the gifts we have within us; our heart, our brain, and our breath and use them as tools during difficult times.
Holy Spirit Catholic Schools is blessed to be a partner in the resettlement of refugee students and their families. As such, we recognize that many of these students may be entering our classrooms with complex challenges, including trauma and loss. The following websites offer some excellent resources, tips, and strategies for school staff to help in making our refugee students and their families feel safer and more connected. Click here! A PDF Resource for Refugee Families

War Trauma in Refugees: Red Flags and Clinical Principles

We know that the wounds from war are not confined to the battle field. Refugees from conflict zones often continue to experience trauma from persecution, imprisonment, torture and resettlement for a long time. Thus, it is important to understand the challenges of refugee families and communities. Learn more here.