We know that supporting people with developmental disabilities can bring joy and meaning. But our work also often results in stress, burnout, and high levels of turnover. And that’s before the onslaught of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus.
Enjoy this message of encouragement from Peter Leidy:
Here are some thoughts on what we can do to take care of ourselves and others during this unexpected, uncertain, and challenging time.
You, and people who count on you, need you to take care of yourself as best as possible, when you are on as well as off of work. In a minute, we’ll get to a few ways you can do this – and engage others around you in your “self-care” during these difficult times.
But first, consider this. There’s a reason airline passengers are instructed that if the oxygen masks drop, adjust your own mask before assisting others. It’s not to be selfish; you can’t be your best for someone else if you’re not okay yourself.
In this film David Pitonyak asks, “Are you someone who helps people to get to dry ground or are you destined to push them further under water?”
This bears repeating, but I’ll phrase it differently. You can’t truly support another person well if your own needs are not being met. A key question here is: How are your needs being met?
In my experience, both personally and professionally, a person’s needs are met not just by what the person does for their own care, but also how others contribute to that person’s wellbeing. I do what I can to take care of myself, but I am also blessed with others in my life who help meet my needs. We take care of me.
People in support roles often feel isolated, on our own. If I don’t do this, no one will. This is totally on my shoulders, at least until the end of my shift. We need to support each other: ask what we can do to help out, check in, be present, be responsive. Family members, managers, support workers, teammates: We all act together for good support.
Okay, now back to some ways you can take care of yourself – not just for your own physical and emotional health, but for the sake of those you are supporting. Here are some ideas which may bring light to your support relationship, to you when you are alone – or both:
- noticing beauty in nature
- mindful breathing, even for a few minutes, focusing on the inhale and exhale
- yoga and/or meditation (lots on YouTube and Zoom these days)
- calling someone who’s currently socially isolated
- offering to help a neighbor
- taking a 15-minute walk in the morning (or any time)
- writing positive messages with sidewalk chalk
- offering something you have that others may need
… just to name a few.
When I’m with groups in workshops or training sessions (which I’m taking a break from now, except virtually!) I might ask people to bring to mind something or someone they’re grateful for.
How about trying this right now? Go on, I’ll wait for you. Honestly I’m not going anywhere! What is something or someone you are grateful for?
Often, it turns out to be a person. If it was for you, I ask that you tell that person – now! Call or text and let them know THEY popped to mind as someone you are grateful for. Why? Because being mindful of our gratitude improves our own wellbeing, and sharing it improves the other person’s.
If you didn’t try that right now, have a go later or when you are next with someone you support. Who or what are you thankful to have in your life?
University of Wisconsin epidemiologist Malia Jones offers some important insights on our current global crisis (interview, Capital Times, 3/18/20.) She says, “Public health by nature is a community project.” We have to cooperate, listen to each other, help each other, ask for help from others. Sound familiar? This is our work.
Good hygiene, safe practices, protecting vulnerable people: doing what we can to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. All of this is so important.
But let’s not ignore what else is needed as much now as ever: Listening, self-care, practicing gratitude, cooperation, helping each other, and seeing this crisis as an opportunity to build community.
By Peter Leidy
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