At any age, there is just something reassuring about a new box of crayons, a quiet moment, and an open invitation to color.

That’s the idea behind the studio that art therapist Sheba Sheikhai is hosting twice a week for her colleagues at My Sister’s Place Women’s Center, helping them manage the stress and intensity that accompany their roles in the time of COVID-19. (Story continues after gallery.)

A trauma-informed approach

As a trauma-informed care organization, Catholic Charities works to recognize, acknowledge and support all individual’s challenges sustained by traumatic experiences. That includes employees.

Typically, Sheikhai’s sessions help clients of the women’s day shelter and resource center process feelings and challenges, build trust, and become more comfortable sharing with others. Now, with the center’s services largely remote and staff working in overdrive in response to an uncertain environment, Sheikhai has shifted her focus to helping employees relax and manage the moment through art.

“I’m experiencing some burnout, even myself,” Sheikhai said. “As health providers, we’re absorbing a lot of people’s anxieties … Complaints, fears, concerns – you’re trying to be strong, even when you don’t have all the answers.”

An outlet for pressure

Coloring pages, water colors, glitter, and worry dolls offer small creative outlets to help staff deal with the pressures of frontline service. In keeping with health advice, Sheikhai cleans the art materials, and separates the tables to ensure each participant has their own at the thrice-weekly sessions.

“Art is just another place staff can be together, create together, and not feel pressure to be our 100-percent self,” Sheikhai said.

Creativity abounds across My Sister’s Place, whether producing meals in the kitchen, problem-solving with and on behalf of clients, or dealing with the impacts of the novel coronavirus. And center Director Karen Eaddy said the art studio offers a peaceful place for her team, free of coronavirus planning.

“We’ve got COVID-19 [talk] everywhere,” she said. “This is the only space where I’ve restricted discussing COVID-19.”

She has also encouraged the ideas of other staff members, including a “Zen space” that will integrate mindfulness and meditation. The release is important, she explained, “so we can all come out of this stronger.”