As a direct support professional, you spend your days caring for other people. So taking time out for self-care might seem silly or selfish — especially in the face of a global pandemic.
But hear us out! Self-care is more important now than ever before. Just like wearing a mask and washing your hands, it’s something that should be part of your everyday routine.
And while you might not be able to meet up with a friend or hit the gym to burn off stress, there are other ways to take care of yourself during the pandemic (and beyond). We’ll share some of these tips in a moment, but first, let’s take a closer look at why self-care is so important.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” In other words, you can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself.
We’ve all had those days where we’re mentally exhausted, overtired, and just going through the motions. It might seem counterintuitive, but taking the time to practice self-care will allow you to show up more fully for the individuals you serve.
Another important reason to prioritize self-care right now: research shows that too much stress can suppress your immune system, which makes you more susceptible to getting sick. And if you’re sick, you certainly won’t be able to help your clients.
Finally, if left unchecked, stress can eventually lead to burnout. This is one of the main reasons DSPs leave the field. By dealing with stress before it becomes too much, you can avoid burning out.
The bottom line: To help and support others, we must get better at taking care of ourselves. So, how can service providers practice self-care?
Contrary to popular belief, you can’t survive on coffee alone. Most adults need at least seven hours of sleep each night. Getting enough sleep is important to ensure you’re well-rested and able to deliver safe, high-quality care. However, when you’re working late shifts or putting in overtime, it can be difficult to get enough rest.
Establishing good sleep habits — like keeping a consistent sleep schedule, limiting caffeine and alcohol in the evening, and avoiding your phone before bedtime — can go a long way. And while a nap won’t make up for missed sleep, napping for ten to 30 minutes has been shown to boost your energy better than a cup of coffee.
After a long shift, the thought of working out for an hour can feel impossible. However, just ten minutes of brisk walking — especially outdoors — can boost your energy, lower your blood pressure, and improve your sleep. If you can’t get outside due to quarantine restrictions, pacing around your apartment or pedaling on a stationary bike offers many of the same benefits.
You can also try squeezing in some extra movement throughout the day. Do squats while you’re waiting for your coffee to brew. Dance around the kitchen while you’re preparing dinner. Throw in your earbuds and take a walk while you’re talking on the phone. It might not seem like much, but all of these small sessions will add up over the course of the day.
When you’re busy typing up progress notes and responding to emails, it’s easy to ignore your growling stomach. Suddenly you look at your watch and realize you forgot to eat lunch. However, skipping meals can lead to poor food choices later in the day and can even mess with your internal clock.
If you don’t have time to pack a lunch, we recommend keeping some healthy snacks in your bag. Apples, almonds, and string cheese are portable and can be consumed while you’re driving from one client’s home to the next.
By now, we all know that getting enough sleep, exercising, and eating right is important for our health. But you might not realize that social connection is just as vital.
One study found that social isolation may be more detrimental to our health than obesity, smoking, and high blood pressure. On the other hand, strong connections have been linked to better mood, improved immune function, and a longer life.
As vaccines become more widely available, we’ll soon be able to hug our loved ones and celebrate birthdays in person. Until then, though, there are lots of ways to stay connected (even if you’re suffering from Zoom fatigue). Try joining an online book club or virtual yoga class. Play a virtual game like Scrabble or Words with Friends. And don’t underestimate the power of picking up the phone.
Especially when your to-do list is miles long, taking a break can feel like a colossal waste of time. But believe it or not, breaks are actually an important way to recharge your batteries.
In the same way that our bodies need rest after a hard workout, our brains also need time to recover. Not convinced? Numerous studies have found that people retain more information when they take a short rest than if they try to use that time “productively”.
Breaks don’t have to be long to be effective — even five or ten minutes will do the trick. Try making a cup of tea, taking a shower, or gazing out the window. Avoid activities that keep your brain buzzing, like checking Facebook or playing Candy Crush.
Service providers are often very good at recognizing the signs of mental health conditions in others, but they might have more difficulty identifying these symptoms within themselves. In addition, what’s “normal” can vary widely from one person to the next.
According to MentalHealth.gov, some signs you should seek professional help include:
Don’t hesitate to seek help if you’re concerned about your mental health. With the right support, you can find ways to cope so that you can get back to feeling better.
Self-care is important not only for your own well-being, but for those around you. Whether you take a nap, go for a walk around the block, or simply stare out the window, there are plenty of ways to practice self-care during COVID-19.
You don’t have to do everything all at once. We challenge you to pick just one of these tips and implement it today. And, if you found this article helpful, share it with your colleagues and subscribe to our newsletter for more news, tips, and resources for IDD service providers.