Frontline Initiative: Self-Care for DSPs

Self-Care by a DSP
Healthy Lifestyle Leads to a Healthier You


Benjamin Hobson was a DSP at Black Hills Works in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Photo of Ben Hobson meditating in his kitchen. He is sitting cross legged on the floor on a blue matt.

Hobson meditating in his kitchen.

This fall, I started to see a lot of requests from various homes seeking to hire Direct Support Professionals (DSPs). I happened to be moving into a new apartment at the time, so I needed extra overtime hours to help with my first month’s rent/deposit.

I found myself working as many as four 16-hour shifts in one week. While deployed overseas in the military, I experienced long hours. I know ways to combat the effects of minimal sleep while working this much overtime. Working as a DSP can often demand alert mental presence while assisting persons served. There is a common misconception of the benefits of sugar-laden energy drinks. Those were not beneficial to mental energy I needed for my job. The harmful effects far outweighed the benefits of staying alert and awake. I experienced cavities and “sugar crashes” during the year working extended overnight shifts. Now I find a disciplined sleep schedule and healthy diet to be far more beneficial to keep up my energy.

Currently, I educate the people I support about healthy sleep habits as a way to protect their own mental health. I practice similar techniques myself while working overtime at various residential settings.

Providing direct support is physically and mentally demanding. Besides a healthy sleep routine, I use other techniques to manage physical and mental health. Those include cooking healthy meals to pack for lunch, doing yoga in my kitchen while my lunch cooks on the stove, writing a page per day for a book I plan to eventually get published, and bicycling to work (year-round as weather permits). Lastly, I take personal time on the couch in my sweatpants while eating string cheese, drinking a cold drink, and watching a comedy on TV. It’s nice to just do “a whole lot of nothing”, during time off from work. Taking a break for myself, helps me to perform better for those I support.

With the high demand busy schedule, it can sometimes be difficult to find time for a lunch break. It’s tempting to order “take out” or fast food. But I have found that a healthy home cooked lunch helps me mentally and physically. Eating healthy helps me work at a top performance level for the people I support. Providing direct support can also have physically demanding challenges. I have found that doing lower back yoga stretches combined with shoulder and arm stretches have helped me manage sore muscles at the end of the day. Providing care to people with mental health challenges often leaves me mentally fatigued. I have found writing is a great way for me to decompress and sort out any thoughts that go through my head during the day. For me, having a goal of writing a book helps give each day that much more meaning and purpose.

Poem by Ben Hobson. Bringing balance to oneself does not mean we breathe in equal parts dark and light. Releasing self-defeating feelings brings back a smile. Force your strongest stars to align. Increase the light. Strive to climb to new heights. Enlighten the sleeping parts of your mind. Say a positive affirmation each day to create even the faintest start of a smile. Light the path. Make your own journey worthwhile. This is how we bring balance back in style.

I am also genuinely interested in the lives of the people I support. I genuinely am interested in the progress they make in achieving their goals. Their happiness and health are a result of my direct support. In conjunction with a genuine interest, I find that maintaining a healthy rapport with my coworkers is critical. Having humor in the workplace can help keep things light-hearted and professional. This helps us to assist each other to be the best DSPs we can be for the people we support. When we support each other, we can work to the fullest potential with the best purpose.