Article

Frontline Initiative: Self-Care for DSPs

DSP Self-Care
Letting it Go, Getting My Own Support, and Meditation

Authors

Teresa M. Fuson is a certified DSP and works as paraprofessional in an elementary school in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.

Photo of the painting Love is All Around by Stephanie Evelo. Painting is abstract and colorful.

“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.

Image of a calendar for the month of August 2019. It is called Altruistic August. Each day is a multi colored box with actions listed in the box.

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.

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