As Human Services Professionals, we are taught the value of self-care from the beginning of our educational process. Terms such as secondary trauma, vicarious trauma, and burnout are introduced within the first class or two of the Human Services curriculum at Ottawa University. Students can begin to develop self-care plans from studying health and wellness even before dealing with clients. Most Human Services agencies have self-care training built into their continuing education programs for professionals in this field.
But how do these techniques prepare us as Human Services students and providers to cope with an unfamiliar and frightening pandemic such as COVID-19? We become Human Services students and workers to fix harmful situations and help people. This scenario is not found in any of our textbooks. However, many of us in this field are adjusting to the new normal and are trying to find a way to juggle childcare, work from home, and worry about elderly parents who we can likely not visit right now. Add this anxiety and stress to the previous pressure of school, work and any other personal concerns and it is easy to see how even those who usually do well at self-care fail to practice the techniques they followed in the past. Here are some reminders for those of us who need a little extra TLC during this chaotic time.
As hard as it is to imagine when we feel scared and out of control, many of the techniques we have learned to help clients become a life rope for ourselves. When everything feels out of control, we can still control the one thing that is the most important to our existence: breathing. Breathing exercises are the first step in regaining control when faced with chaos. Simply breathing in through your nose, counting to 5, and breathing out with your mouth can provide the immediate relaxation to control a pending panic attack. Other techniques can be sought online or from a counselor.
Keeping a routine can feel impossible when everything in our lives is changing. It can however create a sense of calm and safety when we feel unsafe. Human Services professionals encourage this with clients, and we need to remember this for ourselves and students. Again, when things feel out of our control during this pandemic, we need to assume control where we can. Prioritizing tasks no matter how small will provide a sense of accomplishment and success which we all need right now.
As adults, I truly believe that those who benefit emotionally from exercise know it and those that don’t should never be shamed into doing it because it is supposed to help. We are individuals and what works for one may not work for you. As Human Service students and professionals we need to recognize and respect that individuality especially in this pandemic when the simple use of masks may make us feel like we are losing our individual identity.
Mindfulness is often a technique utilized to help both clinicians and their clients to focus on the here and now versus anxiety over the future or regret over the past. This technique has been found to be useful in many situations. We teach our clients and students this routine to reduce anxiety. Simply tune into your senses at a particular moment. What do I see, hear, smell, taste and feel? While concentrating on our current environment, it is harder to worry about something in the future or past. As I mentioned earlier though this technique appears inadequate when facing the largest pandemic and economic decline any of have witnessed. It can however be useful in a larger arsenal of self-care measures.
When we hear scientists, politicians, employers and educators all using the word ‘isolate’ to stay safe, that is the opposite of staying connected. Humans are social beings and tend to thrive when surrounded by supportive people. In Human Services studies, we also learn that isolation is the leading factor in domestic violence, child abuse, depression and suicide. Therefore, the willingness and ability to stay connected with others despite the current challenges is imperative for Human Services students and workers. Connections with family and friends will look different but will bring a sense of normalcy and comfort at a chaotic time. If you have access to see those you miss via video, then do so. If not, phone time is still a valuable tool. Again, it is important to develop a routine, so this won’t just be something else to put on a to do list. Set visit dates with family members such as every Sunday at 1. Perhaps set up a time with friends on a weeknight to share some things about your day. Just be consistent you’re your schedule. You will be glad you did as will the ones you reach out to.
I saved this for last as I feel it is the most important, especially in the Human Services field. We are not invincible no matter how hard we try. We cannot be all things to all people and still maintain a healthy emotional balance. The humility to ask for help when needed is a gift and should be embraced not discarded. Even with Social Distancing and other restrictions help is always available. I tell my students if you are not willing to be vulnerable enough to ask for help you will never be able to empathize with your clients who are struggling. It is okay for the helper to seek help. The best counselors are those who have been in counseling themselves. Please recognize your own humanness and reach out to mental health providers for issues of anxiety and depression.
These tips on health and wellness are helpful for students, faculty, and professionals in the Human Services field. We need to help each other stay well if we are going to be able to help others during this crisis. Read more about Ottawa University’s Bachelor of Arts in Human Services program today, and discover the wonderful opportunities that await you in the helping field.
Contact us for further information about our Human Services program.