Frontline Initiative: Self-Care for DSPs
Letting it Go, Getting My Own Support, and Meditation
“Love All Around” by Stephanie Evelo, 4.25.2010, is in the private collection of Sheryl and David Evelo. It was a birthday gift to her mother Sheryl. The Stephanie Evelo Fund for Art Inclusion was started in Stephanie’s honor and memory.
Working as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) can be draining, but if we practice good self-care techniques we can unwind at the end of the day. Some of these techniques include, (1) knowing when to “let it go,” (2) having a great support team, and (3) meditation or mindfulness.
Knowing When to “Let It Go”
Many hear the phrase, “Let it go,” but never really understand the meaning of those words. Even on extremely stressful days, there are ways to let it go when we leave work for the day. A website called, Action for Happiness, has self-care calendars for every month with suggestions to help with self-care. You can see below an example of a resource from Action for Happiness that can help build positive thinking patterns. A great first step is talking about our day on our drive home with someone who is supportive. Or, we can just talk it out with ourselves. When we arrive to our next destination we need to give ourselves permission to let it go. For me, sometimes it helps to open the glovebox in my car or go to the mailbox and pretend to put everything that happened into it. Once I walk away, I give myself permission to not dwell on it anymore. A work journal can also be helpful — to write out how my day went, and then write one positive thing that happened, and one thing I could have done better. This is another great way to let it go.
Having a great support team
Having a support system for those working in direct support is another extremely important piece of self-care. It is helpful to have at least one person who knows you well and at least one person who works in direct support. They can help get you through the stressful times and give advice when needed. According to the Harvard Business Review, there are six principles for creating a healthy and positive work culture . These include, avoiding blame and forgiving mistakes, inspiring one another at work, caring for colleagues, providing support for one another, treating one another with respect, and emphasizing the meaningfulness of work.
Practicing Meditation or Mindfulness
With a strong support team in place, meditation is another important component that truly helps after a long and hard day at work. Meditation is one of the best ways to release stress and tension, especially after a stressful day. Supporting someone who can be defiant, refuse the help, or be aggressive can be exhausting mentally. Regularly practicing meditation or mindfulness is easy. Over time it can become an automatic part of a DSPs daily routine that helps cultivate more mindful responses in stressful situations. Learning to completely relax can take time, but do not give up. It takes practice. It is best to practice at first when you are not stressed out to get used to it and to know what to do. There are many meditation techniques available and many resources. One of my favorites is the website, www.7cups.com. This is an online community where you can find meditation recordings, and other listeners who you can chat with when needed. Using essential oils in a diffuser or on your skin can help you relax as well. Lavender is one of my favorite scents to help calm my body.
Working as a DSP can be a very difficult job, but a completely rewarding one. Long days of work and being mentally exhausted can make it hard to relax. But, learning to detox negative thinking patterns, and replacing them with positive thinking patterns can help “let it go.” It is also important to have a strong support system in place, and good meditation or mindfulness exercises in your daily routine. These three pieces can help DSPs care for themselves, and live healthy, happy lives. Providing high quality support to others is an important job, and in order to do that, self-care is essential.
My Day as a DSP
Morning: I wake up every morning during the weekdays at 6:30. I get myself ready for work, and my two children ready for school. My elementary-aged children have special needs. Getting them ready for school consists of tantrums because even though they get decent sleep, they do not want to do the work of getting dressed. Once they have dressed themselves, eaten breakfast, and had ten minutes of iPad time, we leave for my work. Since I work at a school, my children get on a bus to ride to their schools. At 8:45, I begin my day as a paraprofessional with eight children with significant support needs.
Work: I work until 4:15 in the afternoon. During the day, I work with some amazing but often challenging children. I often deal with challenging incidents throughout the day. It is not uncommon for DSPs to be the target of behaviors such as being punched, kicked, bit, pinched, smacked, or spit on. Keeping myself in a positive state of mind is not easy, but my self-care practices help me keep my cool when this happens. They help keep me happy and relaxed in my work, as well as outside my work.
Home/school: Many wonder how I can keep it “all together” after a long and exhausting day at work. I come home to children of my own with special needs, and my own school work, since I am working to complete a degree. Balancing these demands can be challenging. I have used medication for anxiety and depression since I was a child. These are important in helping me care for myself. I also use other self-care strategies to keep myself level headed. I talk through my day at work when I am driving home. I call my mother, or a co-worker if needed, for support. When I arrive home, I let it go by taking all my stress from my workday to my glovebox before I get out of the car. I physically open the glovebox and imagine putting my stresses inside. Then I give myself permission to let it go.
I walk in my door to the house and hug my children. We talk about how their days were. I have made PEC wallets (Picture Exchange Communication System) for my children. This helps motivate them to do things they do not like, such as cleaning or homework. This helps to reduce tantrums or meltdowns. They also like to play with sensory objects, such as kinetic sand.
Working all day, then working with my children when I get home, and doing my school work takes up much of my “me time.” But, I have made sure to take 15-30 minutes at night after a warm shower to meditate. I often use the 7 Cups website for mindfulness exercises. The recordings guide me through what I need to do. There are many options on this site, so I can choose an exercise for my mood. After this, I read until I fall asleep. I remind myself every day that I love my children, and I love my job. I truly do love seeing at work how much my support helps the children become more independent. When something happens that stresses me out at work and I do not feel like I can handle it, I make sure to “tag out.” I find another DSP who can step in to deal with the situation. I take a short break to relax, take deep breaths, and remember that tomorrow is another day and I did my best.