Direct support professionals (DSPs), homemaker/personal care (HPC) workers as well as other caregivers have challenging occupations. Over time, providing quality, compassionate and safe care can take a physical toll on the health of home care workers and other support staff.
In fact, higher rates of stress are often reported by many different healthcare workers. High rates of long-term stress negatively impact the body both physically and mentally. In order to lower stress rates, healthcare professionals need to find a healthy work-life balance.
When measuring work-life balance, researchers track unhealthy behaviors such as skipping meals or working without breaks. If workers can create a good work-life balance, research from the BMJ Quality & Safety suggests that a better work culture is created and healthcare professionals are less likely to experience burnout.
Here are three behaviors that caregivers can implement right now which will help them stay healthy and more productive.
Get Some Exercise:
Physical exercise is hard to pull off for many Americans. Work and the everyday chores of life often make workers physically tired when they get home from work. However, caregivers and DSPs will experience direct health benefits from even a small amount of exercise. If individuals feel like do not have enough time or energy to get a regular workout in, there are other ways.
Direct support professionals can jump-start their exercising habits by gradually making changes. They can start by adding small amounts of exercise into their everyday activities. For starters, individuals should make sure practice good posture by standing tall with their shoulders pulled back. Over time, this will provide better breathing behaviors and allow their lungs to take in more air. Maintaining good posture also requires the body to use more skeleton muscle.
While taking care of shopping errands, a quick exercise trick is to park further away from the store entrances. Some additional exercise is gained by also returning the shopping cart to the front of the store. The same logic applies when using elevators and escalators. When possible, people should try and take the stairs.
If making a phone call or talking on the phone, if possible, stand up. When individuals need to pick something up from the floor, they should perform a proper squat instead of bending over at the back.
When at work, depending on the workplace layout, healthcare staff should try to use the restroom that is furthest from their location. However, sometimes due to the demands of the work and safety concerns, this is not always possible. But again, if healthcare staff can manage to get in these few extra steps, it will add up by the end of the week. Also, the more physical activity people get, the more likely they are to sleep better at night.
Get Enough Sleep:
Sleep deprivation is a major problem for many Americans. This issue is even more pronounced for direct support professionals who have overnight shifts. Other times it may seem like there are just not enough hours in the day. One way to add more hours to the day is to cut back on sleep.
This may seem to work in the short-term, but in the long-term; this will have negative consequences on a person’s health and overall well-being. It is recommended that people get between 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep. Newer studies continue to link sleep deprivation to an increased array of serious health conditions such as heart disease, depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, mood disturbances, and Alzheimer’s disease.
One way for people to sleep better at night is to reduce the amount of light in their bedroom. This means having good blinds that block outside light and turning off any near the sleeping area. In some situations, people can even try wearing an eye mask.
Sleep researchers have also found that people tend to experience a better quality of sleep when their bedroom is set to a cooler temperature. Current research recommends having a bedroom temperature that is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures below or above this can create restless sleep and leave a person feeling tired in the morning.
Another way for people to achieve a good night’s sleep is to avoid blue light right before bedtime. Recent studies have recommended that people avoid looking at bright screens beginning two to three hours before they go to bed. This blue light from devices like smartphones, computers and TVs will trigger the human brain to stop producing hormones that encourage sleep. Blue light near bedtime appears to disrupt the body’s biological clock (circadian rhythm).
A quick trick is to adjust smartphones to a night shift setting so that these devices emit a warmer, dimmer light near bedtime. However, the best option is for individuals to avoid the blue light from digital devices (if possible) in the hours leading up to bedtime.
Get Regular Meals:
Direct support professionals and other healthcare workers may feel like they simply do not have enough time to eat. Many DSPs and other healthcare staff often turn to drinks and food loaded with caffeine and sugar when they are hungry. However, the effects of these substances are short lived.
Everyone should try to always eat breakfast. This meal is a crucial part of any caregiver’s morning routine. When people skip breakfast, later in the day they tend to become lethargic and make unhealthy food choices. Ideally, for breakfast, people should eat something that has quality protein which will provide them with some long-term energy.
Trying to eat a healthy diet does not mean that people have to be perfect. Snack food and caffeine are fine in low portions. In general, DSPs should try to avoid, or at least limit, their consumption of processed foods. This means eating whole grains and fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Frozen vegetables are especially versatile since they can be used in cooking or put into smoothies.
There is a debate as to whether people should eat 3 larger meals a day or 6 smaller meals throughout the day. Some researchers argue that frequent snacking, as long as it’s healthy, keeps your metabolism humming, staves off hunger, and controls blood sugar. Yet, an eating study out of the University of Ottawa found that when on a low-calorie diet, there was no weight loss advantage to splitting calories between three versus six meals.
Another study found that switching from three meals a day to six meals a day did not boost calorie-burning or fat loss. In fact, the researchers concluded, eating six meals a day actually may encourage weight gain. What is important is that people do not skip meals or eat only once or twice a day.
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