Frontline Initiative: Self-Care for DSPs

Who Is Looking Out for You While You Are Looking Out for Others?


Antha Flood , SHRM-SCP, RYT, is the senior coordinator of Person Centered Supports at Life’s WORC in Garden City, New York.

Photo of an African American man holding his hand on his chest.

Many of us become Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) because we are “caretakers” and “helpers.” We are drawn by a need to serve. But how are we doing caring for ourselves? Emotional, physical, and otherwise - fatigue is rampant in our society, leaving many of us exhausted. What can we do to address this imbalance?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “job-related factors such as wages, hours of work, workload and stress levels, interactions with coworkers and supervisors, access to paid leave, and health-promoting workplaces all can have an impact on the well-being of workers, their families, and their communities (Lee, Hudson, Richards, Chang, Chosewood & Schill, 2016) .”  This may be felt even more so in the social service sector. At Life’s WORC, we believe we must create opportunities to increase our well-being. We feel these opportunities must be inviting and realistic for DSPs who work at our organization. However, DSPs must also be the ones to put them in action. All the tools in the world will not help if we do not actually pick them up and use them.

The best strategic approach is one that is focused on prevention and being proactive. Many DSPs feel exhausted. This can be both physically and emotionally dangerous. It is important to regularly engage in calming, nurturing activities to relax and rejuvenate ourselves before becoming over tired. Part of this is through time management and setting boundaries. Make an appointment with yourself! It may seem odd to schedule things like regular exercise, relaxation, and time to socialize or engage in our favorite hobbies and interests. But when we do not, those important things get lost in the rush of life.

Below are some of the free and low-cost ways we create wellness opportunities for DSPs in our organization —

  • We offer a Walk Club. Employees can walk on their own or with their teams. Those who choose to participate are entered into a monthly drawing that yields prizes for first through third place.
  • We bring in guest speakers on a variety of wellness topics for Bring Your Lunch and Learn.
  • Calendars are distributed that include information with free and low-cost community events by county in the four geographic areas where we provide services.
  • Throughout the year, we host fitness-related contests for our employees, and we hold Wellness and Benefits fairs where we feature information about wellness opportunities available for our employees.
  • Good health is recognized as an agency priority to the point that we have a version of our logo that is specifically dedicated to this philosophy.
  • Our human resources department distributes a monthly newsletter called Living Well @ WORC. This covers many topics from flu season tips, to recipes, and inexpensive ways to eat better, for example.
  • We access discounted leisure activities through Plum Benefits and Working Advantage. DSPs can get lower rates on travel, attractions, rental cars, plays, and more.
  • Keep the conversation going. It’s completely free to encourage a culture of wellness throughout your organization when you truly make it part of who you are. Kind and sensitive support among colleagues goes a long way. Be each other’s supports!

At Life’s WORC, we have a formal wellness program where staff can earn up to $525 annually for doing things like physical and preventative screening, purchasing fitness equipment and exercise class packages, learning about healthful nutrition, and weight loss and smoking cessation programs. We have found that an emphasis on comprehensive and authentic wellness can be a great tool in combating industry turnover. When we feel better, we are happier and able to better support positive behavior, lifestyle, and decision making. Our commitment to DSPs is strong, and we continually look for ways to blow wind into the sails of our DSPs.

Lastly, we know from the work that we do as DSPs that better health outcomes for the people that we support are dependent on being proactive, consistent and informed. From an emotional wellness and teambuilding standpoint, these same principles also apply to us when we actively seek to widen our professional circle of support as employees. Networking with others in the field gives us a sense of comradery. It also provides an opportunity to share tips, tricks, and life hacks. In seeking out those best practices, we affirm the value of what we do. We also motivate ourselves to try new things as we search for better and more effective approaches to achieving more outcomes.


  • Lee, M. P., Hudson, H., Richards, R., Chang, C. C., Chosewood, L. C., & Schill, A. L. (2016). Fundamentals of total worker health approaches: essential elements for advancing worker safety, health, and well-being . Cincinnati, OH: Department of Health and Human Services, Center on Disease Control, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.