“Teachers, please secure the door to your classroom.”
The classroom teacher heads over to the lightswitch as she hears the announcement. Lights off. Blinds closed. With a finger over her lips she points to the corner of the room where all the students scurry and huddle together.
School safety is on everyone’s mind. From the Oval Office to the principal’s office, the topic unfortunately is trending. Lockdown drills are now commonplace mandates that serve as a cornerstone for safety protocols. But… what impact do these drills have on our children? Let’s look at it from a scientific perspective.
We Cannot Reason With the Amygdala
We know it’s a drill. A drill means practice. We are just practicing in case a dangerous person were to come into the school. There isn’t really someone posing a threat to our safety, it is just the building secretary checking to make sure the teacher locked the door.
However, when that door handle rattles, students will undoubtedly react. Even though students know in their cognitive minds that lockdown drills are just practice, the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for survival, does not know. The protective part of the brain goes into action before our frontal lobe has a chance to explain the lack of threat. However much we prepare our children, we cannot reason with the amygdala.
Trauma Resides in the Nervous System
So what happens when in that moment when the door handle shakes? The amygdala fires and sends out an SOS. To survive, our bodies go into fight, flight or freeze mode. Huddled together, holding their breath, students don’t have the option to fight or flee, so they are left with freeze as the only means of survival. Adrenaline and cortisol are frozen in the nervous system.
“Freeze” is Detrimental
Trauma counselors will tell us that the freeze response has the most detrimental long-term impact on the nervous system. When the amygdala is activated, it is crucial for the body discharges the influx of survival energy. When fight or flee are not options (as in the case of lockdown drills), the nervous system is left with excess. Repeated activation of the amygdala without allowing for completion of the cycle will leave adverse effects on the mind, body, and heart.
Bringing Move Mindfully into your Lockdown Drill
So, what can we do? Lockdown drills are our reality. The lights off, huddle and hide routine is now commonplace. However, integrating three Move Mindfully strategies into your lockdown drill will mitigate some of the potentially negative lasting impacts.
Step 1: The Huddle
When students assume the huddle position, cue them into child’s pose. With head below the heart and a curved spine, this position naturally relaxes the body. Take long, deep breaths to activate the relaxation response. Another benefit to this pose is the elimination of the visual stimuli that can cause hyper-vigilance (i.e. waiting for the door handle to shake, sounds in the hallway). (Download Child’s Pose from our Move Mindfully Card Deck for suggested language.) Please note: We want to practice these skills when the body and mind are calm so that we can easily access them during high stress times, like lockdown drills.
Step 2: Release
It is absolutely critical that students are given an opportunity to release after a lockdown drill. Our best option is to tap into the “flight” response and run a lap around the school. If that is not possible, shaking, jumping or tapping are viable options. The body uses these movements as a way to discharge the stress hormones released during the lockdown drill.
Step 3: Re-Integrate
Finally, returning to a relaxed-activated state culminates the drill. Cue students into two to three forward folds, which helps the body tap into a calming response. To transition back to learning, use the breathing ball and take 10 belly breaths.
As long as lockdown drills are a reality for our schools, we can support our students with the science and practice of Mindful Movement. What have you tried during lockdown drills? Leave a comment.