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Addressing Your Own Mental Health Hygiene While Employed in the Mental Health Workforce

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Any occupation can be draining. Throw in some untreated mental health issues and pressure to keep struggling forward, and you have yourself a load that feels impossible to bear. Taking care of your own mental health while helping others take care of theirs feels like one of those burdens. As a mental health worker, I know these feelings all too well, but I assure you, there are ways to manage, confront, and process the adverse effects many mental health disorders bring.

I work as a direct support professional. Supporting people with intellectual and developmental disabilities is my everyday job. When I began putting my clients’ needs above my own at all times, not only did my work performance suffer, but my life outside of work took a big hit, too. It is important to find that balance of being able to care for others while still caring for you! Especially if you already struggle with underlying anxiety and depression.

Anxiety. Heart racing, constant thoughts of worry, nervousness, restlessness. If you struggle with anxiety, I am sure you have felt these things at one time or another. I found them hard to escape and think through. According to Anxiety and Depression Association of America, generalized anxiety disorder affects 6.8 million adults in the U.S. As daunting as this sounds, I will share a couple of strategies that can be a positive game-changer in escaping anxiety.

Deep breathing. This helps promote disengagement from overwhelming thoughts and stressful situations. As simple as inhaling through your nose for three seconds, then exhaling out your mouth for another three. It will take some practice to create a routine and system that work for you. It has been proven the more you have control of your breathing, the more the rest of your body will follow suit in slowing down. Your heart rate slows, ebbing feelings of panic, and your muscles loosen, allowing you to be more relaxed. This has worked wonders for my anxiety on and off the job. The more you use it, the more it becomes an automatic reflex.

The other tip I want to share that has done wonders to reduce my anxiety and depression is eating balanced meals. I am not talking about some intense diet that limits carbs and calories. I want to bring awareness to the importance of not skipping meals and keeping healthy snacks on hand. Anxiety is draining and takes effort from the brain. Feed your brain the calories and carbs it needs. Health issues have been directly linked to mental health provider burn-out. It is important to eat all meals and provide yourself with healthy snacks such as fruits, veggies, granola bars, nuts, and more. When you skip meals, you will lack the fuel your brain and body need to make it through the day. I started skipping meals, mainly breakfast, and indulged in junk food snacks like chips, cookies, and soda. These sugar-filled and processed foods cause inflammation throughout the body and brain, contributing to mental illnesses like anxiety and depression.

I began a decline in my daily functioning and ability to fight through my anxiety. I had to fight off headaches, stomachaches, low blood sugar, and dehydration. At work, I would skip meals as well, feeling there was insufficient time to sit down and eat my own meal instead of helping my clients with theirs. Oh, how I was wrong! When skipping nutrition, I noticed a significant increase in the side effects of my own anxiety: panic attacks, lack of focus and motivation, restlessness, and a constant lethargic feeling that hovered over me wherever I went. It was hard at first to eat consistently. I had to push through my brain telling me I wasn’t hungry and force myself to eat regardless. It still is a struggle some days, but the more consistently I eat, the better I feel. I have more energy, a positive attitude, and more strength in my mind to handle the anxiety when it may appear.

These tips and changes allowed me to keep my mental health job and continue pursuing my passion for helping people and supporting their needs. It teaches me every day the importance of taking care of myself. Making sure your own needs are met as well as your clients’ is not selfish. How can you serve if you have nothing to give? We take pieces of ourselves and lend them to those we support, and they rely on us to do so. Knowing and practicing these tips allows me to equip my clients better and create more healthy routines. It’s a dual benefit that takes a little less of your energy and helps your clients learn to rely on themselves.

If these strategies don’t work for you, don’t be discouraged! Reach out, research, and find a safe place to explore the routines and skills that may work best for you, then practice them as best as you are able to. Everyone is different. Not all bodies work the same. It may not get easier for you right away, but hopefully, with consistency and practice, you can benefit from the same things that made such a difference in how I manage my own mental health.


About the Author, Kiley Brennan: I have been working in Mental Health as a Direct Support Professional (DSP) for about three and a half years now. My goal is to combine my passion for writing and mental health to create awareness and reach as many audiences that are willing to listen. We create the change we wish to see.

Photo by Taylor Wilcox on Unsplash

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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