When I talk to clients or participants at trainings I facilitate, friends and others about self-care, there is a resounding and recurring notion that implementing a self-care plan requires a lot of time and money. This isn’t a surprise to me. For years, I also carried this belief. I thought that having extra time and money were key components to maintaining a self-care practice. After all, without time how will you get to do the things you want to do, and without money, how will you finance your self-care activities?
There is also a misconception about what self-care is. What usually comes up as a definition of self-care is spa days, time at the hair salon on regular basis, gym time and vacation. While all these activities are examples of self-care activities, the reality is that for many people these activities can be outside of their reach. Limiting our self-care definition to just a few select activities can hinder our ability to recharge ourselves.
Despite these beliefs, there is growing general agreement that self-care is essential for our overall well-being. Self-care is an effective way to manage stress and a key factor in keeping healthy physically and mentally. The definition of self-care that I have adopted is that of a practice that allows us to strengthen our bodies, minds, and souls.
The great news is that there are many ways to fulfill this endeavor. There is no one-way of doing it and there isn’t such a thing as one size fits all. Self-care can be practiced as it best fits people’s lifestyles, time and resources. And there are many free things that you can do. So let’s forget those standardized self-care checklists and create your own list based on what works for you.
To help incorporate self-care into our daily lives, I propose that rather than doing self-care as a one-time only extravaganza when we feel burned out, we sprinkle self-care throughout our day or week.
Here are a few ideas how:
Mindfulness Meditation. We can take what I call mini vacations through mindfulness meditation, a practice has been proven effective to reducing stress and preventing and managing mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. There are many types of mindfulness exercises. One such exercise is deep breathing. We can dedicate as little as 5 minutes a day to deep breathing (or as many times as you need it throughout the day). During our breathing exercises, we focus on our breath, inhaling slowly in and out through our nose.
Visualizations. With the deep breathing, we can add visualization, imagining a place that brings us tranquility and peace as we deep breath in and out or a past happy memory. We can do a variation to our breathing exercises reciting positive affirmations about ourselves or reflecting on things that are going right in our lives. But this is just one possible exercise. Mindfulness is much broader than that. As best put by mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is paying attention on purpose in a particular way to what is arising and the present moment. I encourage you to look more into mindfulness.
Time management. Self-care involves self-awareness on the tasks that you can handle and those that may be too much. Practice saying no to extra commitments when your plate is already full or asking for help. Having too demands on us can lead to stress and overwhelming feelings.
Doing things that bring you joy. Do an inventory of things you truly enjoy— starting with little things to big. What is feasible to sprinkle into your day? For some people, it may be drinking your favorite cup of tea, lighting up a candle, listening to your favorite music on the way to work or while at home, going on a bike ride, spending quality time with family and friends, watching their favorite TV show, doing your favorite hobby, etc. Whatever it may be, make it a consistent part of your practice.
Creative Release Outlets. We have seen the explosion of “adult coloring books” marketed as stress reduction tools, and there is evidence to back this up. The trick of coloring is that it is an activity that requires focusing in one task and as we color or paint, it allows us to express ourselves and set free of our worries, even if it is just for a few moments. This can be a fun activity to do alone or with kids. If coloring isn’t your thing, try journaling. You can experience a sense of release by writing when you are feeling stressed, frustrated, tired, etc., or you may simply enjoy chronicling your positive experiences and looking back to it when you need inspiration or extra boost.
Connecting with nature and exercise. Nature has healing and self-soothing power. A walk in our local park or outside can be the break someone needs and it is not only good for overall physical health but for it improves our mental well-being.
Exercise is an important part of staying healthy both psychically and mentally. One of the things I commonly see is that we may get excited about an exercise routine but that excitement may dwindle or barriers begin to creep in. Instead of thinking of exercise as one more thing to do, think about it as something you need to do for your survival, just like you need to eat, breathe and sleep. To this, adding a self-care buddy that you can enjoy your activity with may make the journey much easier and more fulfilling. Exercise does not have to break your bank. Take to your local park and walk the recommended 30 minutes a day, either during your lunch break, before or after work or get off the metro or bus a few stops before your destination and walk the rest.
Connecting with others. Connecting with others has been found to be a key factor in maintaining our mental health. While we may interact with people throughout the day either through work, school or at home, what I am talking about is having meaningful connections and relationships of people you enjoy spending quality time with. The kind of people who bring you joy, lift you up, listen to you and support you and vice versa.
While technology and social media have great benefits, too much of it can hinder our ability to be present and it can prevent us from enjoying what’s around us. Unplugging occasionally from technology and social media is vital in our quest to taking care of our minds.
Take small breaks during the day. Beyond your lunch break, take small breaks as needed during the day. Make it an intentional practice to move around in your office, school or home. Instead of sending that email to your colleague, walk over to deliver your message in person if feasible.
Self-care buddy. This is my personal favorite: designating someone to hold you accountable on your self-care journey. At work, appoint colleagues who can remind you to have lunch and/or someone you can go on a walk with when stressed. At home, appoint loved ones who can support you in staying healthy and remind you of your commitment to yourself.
Use smartphone apps to support your practice. Some of my favorite are Calm and Bloom. Calm has different visualization images like beaches, mountains, rainforests with natural sounds that match the images. You have to try it to see the impact. You will literally be transported to those places. Bloom is an app where you can include daily reminders including inspirational notes that you can load with images (your own pictures or from stock) and music. In this app, you can include reminders such as remembering to take a break, remembering to take a deep breath. You can schedule those messages to pop up throughout the day. It is kind of fun to get the messages when you least expect them but when you need them the most.
These are just a few ideas of endless activities you can do to keep up with your self-care. What may work for one person, may not work for another. The key to self-care is doing activities that can nourish our minds, bodies, and souls. The tools are within our reach to practice consistently, as a necessity, as a way of survival just like breathing and eating.
Study Shows Immune Cells Against Covid-19 Stay High in Number Six Months After Vaccination
A recent study by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers provides evidence that CD4+ T lymphocytes — immune system cells also known as helper T cells — produced by people who received either of the two available messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines for COVID-19 persist six months after vaccination at only slightly reduced levels from two weeks after vaccination and are at significantly higher levels than for those who are unvaccinated.
The researchers also found that the T cells they studied recognize and help protect against the delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the delta variant — currently the predominant strain of SARS-CoV-2 in the United States — causes more infections and spreads faster than earlier forms of the virus.
“Previous research has suggested that humoral immune response — where the immune system circulates virus-neutralizing antibodies — can drop off at six months after vaccination, whereas our study indicates that cellular immunity — where the immune system directly attacks infected cells — remains strong,” says study senior author Joel Blankson, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “The persistence of these vaccine-elicited T cells, along with the fact that they’re active against the delta variant, has important implications for guiding COVID vaccine development and determining the need for COVID boosters in the future.”
To reach these findings, Blankson and his colleagues obtained blood from 15 study participants (10 men and five women) at three times: prior to vaccination, between seven and14 days after their second Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine dose, and six months after vaccination. The median age of the participants was 41 and none had evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection.
CD4+ T lymphocytes get their nickname of helper T cells because they assist another type of immune system cell, the B lymphocyte (B cell), to respond to surface proteins — antigens — on viruses such as SARS-CoV-2. Activated by the CD4+ T cells, immature B cells become either plasma cells that produce antibodies to mark infected cells for disposal from the body or memory cells that “remember” the antigen’s biochemical structure for a faster response to future infections. Therefore, a CD4+ T cell response can serve as a measure of how well the immune system responds to a vaccine and yields humoral immunity.
In their study, Blankson and colleagues found that the number of helper T cells recognizing SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins was extremely low prior to vaccination — with a median of 2.7 spot-forming units (SFUs, the level of which is a measure of T cell frequency) per million peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs, identified as any blood cell with a round nucleus, including lymphocytes). Between 7 and 14 days after vaccination, the T cell frequency rose to a median of 237 SFUs per million PBMCs. At six months after vaccination, the level dropped slightly to a median of 122 SFUs per million PBMCs — a T cell frequency still significantly higher than before vaccination.
The researchers also looked six months after vaccination at the ability of CD4+ T cells to recognize spike proteins atop the SARS-CoV-2 delta variant. They discovered the number of T cells recognizing the delta variant spike protein was not significantly different from that of T cells attuned to the original virus strain’s protein.
Although the study was limited because of the small number of participants, Blankson feels it pinpoints areas that merit further research.
“The robust expansion of T cells in response to stimulation with spike proteins is certainly indicated, supporting the need for more study to show booster shots do successfully increase the frequency of SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells circulating in the blood,” says Blankson. “The added bonus is finding that this response also is likely strong for the delta variant.”
Along with Blankson, the members of the study team from Johns Hopkins Medicine are study lead author Bezawit Woldemeskel and Caroline Garliss.
This study was supported by the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 Vaccine-related Research Fund.
The authors do not have financial or conflict of interest disclosures.
Poverty, Racism and the Public Health Crisis in America
Although extreme poverty in the United States is low by global standards, the U.S. has the worst index of health and social problems as a function of income inequality. In a newly published article, Bettina Beech, clinical professor of population health in the Department of Health Systems and Population Health Sciences at the University of Houston College of Medicine and chief population health officer at UH, examines poverty and racism as factors influencing health.
“A common narrative for the relatively high prevalence of poverty among marginalized minority communities is predicated on racist notions of racial inferiority and frequent denial of the structural forms of racism and classism that have contributed to public health crises in the United States and across the globe,” Beech reports in Frontiers in Public Health. “Racism contributes to and perpetuates the economic and financial inequality that diminishes prospects for population health improvement among marginalized racial and ethnic groups. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of poverty in the developed world, but despite its collective wealth, the burden falls disproportionately on communities of color.” The goal of population health is to achieve health equity, so that every person can reach their full potential.
Though overall wealth has risen in recent years, growth in economic and financial resources has not been equally distributed. Black families in the U.S. have about one-twentieth the wealth of their white peers on average. For every dollar of wealth in white families, the corresponding wealth in Black households is five cents.
“Wealth inequality is not a function of work ethic or work hour difference between groups. Rather, the widening gap between the affluent and the poor can be linked to unjust policies and practices that favor the wealthy,” said Beech. “The impact of this form of inequality on health has come into sharp focus during the COVID-19 pandemic as the economically disadvantaged were more likely to get infected with SARS CoV-2 and die.”
A Very Old Problem
In the mid-1800’s, Dr. James McCune Smith wrote one of the earliest descriptions of racism as the cause of health inequities and ultimately health disparities in America. He explained the health of a person “was not primarily a consequence of their innate constitution, but instead reflected their intrinsic membership in groups created by a race structured society.”
Over 100 years later, the Heckler Report, the first government-sanctioned assessment of racial health disparities, was published. It noted mortality inequity was linked to six leading causes of preventable excess deaths for the Black compared to the white population (cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, infant mortality, chemical dependency and homicide/unintentional injury).
It and other reports led to a more robust focus on population health over the last few decades that has included a renewed interest in the impact of racism and social factors, such as poverty, on clinical outcomes.
The Myth of Meritocracy
Beech contends that structural racism harms marginalized populations at the expense of affording greater resources, opportunities and other privileges to the dominant white society.
“Public discourse has been largely shaped by a narrative of meritocracy which is laced with ideals of opportunity without any consideration of the realities of racism and race-based inequities in structures and systems that have locked individuals, families and communities into poverty-stricken lives for generations,” she said. “Coupled with a lack of a national health program this condemns oppressed populations such as Black and Hispanic Americans, American Indians, and disproportionately non-English speaking immigrants and refugees to remain in poverty and suffer from suboptimal health.”
Keys to Improvement
The World Health Organization identified three keys to improving health at a global level that each reinforces the impact of socioeconomic factors: (1) improve the conditions of daily life; (2) tackle the inequitable distribution of power, money and resources; and (3) develop a workforce trained in and public awareness of the social determinants of health.
The report’s findings highlight the need to implement health policies to increase access to care for lower-income individuals and highlight the need to ensure such policies and associated programs are reaching those in need.
“Health care providers can directly address many of the factors crucial for closing the health disparities gap by recognizing and trying to mitigate the race-based implicit biases many physicians carry, as well as leveraging their privilege to address the elements of institutionalized racism entrenched within the fabric of our society, starting with social injustice and human indifference,” said Beech.
What Do You Know About Disability Cultural Competence?
Recently, I had the opportunity to give a webinar on disability cultural competence to social service workers, but was met with many blank stares. As a disabled social worker myself, I often notice that the disability community is not recognized as a cultural group. Disability is also not considered as a social identity in diversity considerations, despite the ways the community feels about it. Frankly, our field has a long way to go when it comes to developing disability cultural competence. Let’s see if we can change that.
Why the We Need to Prioritize the Disability Community
You may be asking yourself, why all the focus on disability? Well, the disability community comprises 26 percent of the adult U.S. population – that’s one in four Americans according to the Centers for Disease Control. Among children under the age of 18, estimates suggest that 4.3 percent of the population is disabled according to the U.S. Census from 2019. This means that social services workers are interacting with the disability community all over! It’s also important to note that disability transcends race, ethnicity, gender and other social identities, as seen in the graphic below (courtesy of Courtney-Long, Romano, Carroll, et al., 2017). So we need to remember to be intersectional in our practice – these are not siloed communities.
Importance of Disability Identity
I’d like to transition now to talking about the importance of having a disability identity. Some people identify as disabled from a cultural perspective. Some people are not even aware that this is an option and you can open their eyes to the world of disability as a resource for them. In other words, for some, this is a missed opportunity to connect to a supportive network. For others, it’s a choice not to identify as disabled either due to stigma, internalized ableism or other beliefs. The idea is that developing a strong disability identity is super helpful with your long-term well-being. And in order to do this, you have to both connect with the disability community and with disability culture. So what is that?
What is Disability Culture?
In short, disability culture is the “sum total of behaviors, beliefs, ways of living, & material artifacts that are unique to persons affected by disability.” It’s essential for social service workers to be tuned in to disability culture so they can leverage it to connect with their clients. And let’s be clear, disability culture does NOT consist of disability service programs. Where we really see disability culture come alive is on social media sites, such as Twitter and Instagram. You can follow some of the major disability culture hashtags to see the dialogues and debates that are hot in our community right now, such as: #DisabilityTwitter; #DisabilityVisability; #DisabilityAwareness; #IdentityFirst; #DisabilityLife; #Spoonie,#SpoonieLife, and more.
You may notice that the last two hashtags included the word “spoonie.” This derives from “spoon theory,” which is an actual theory based on a metaphor about how much mental and physical energy a person has to accomplish their activities of daily living (ADLs) and instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs). The disability community talks about how many “spoons” they have as a unit of measurement of energy – and sometimes refers to themselves as spoonies. Please note that in teaching you this, I am helping you to develop your disability cultural competence.
How Build Disability Cultural Competence
Other ways to build up your disability cultural competence are to check out the Disability Visibility Project, which tells the stories of diverse members of the community in wonderful ways. And there are a range of organizations, such as Sins Invalid, which founded the disability justice movement. You can also read the 10 principles of that movement in this short document. This will help you to tune in to the disability pride movement. We have a pride month and a pride flag too, it happens in July.
When it comes to engaging in disability competent practice, we need to develop knowledge about disability culture and disability history. We can also consider taking the following steps to round out this competence:
First, we need to examine our own attitudes about disability and engage in reflective practice around that. You can consider your own implicit bias about the disability community through Harvard University’s Project Implicit test about ableism, or through social worker Vilissa Thompson’s guide to checking your own ableism.
Second, developing disability cultural competence over time also includes a careful look at the terminology we are using and respecting disabled people’s choice of identity-first language in many cases. You can read more about that here and throughout that site. The Harvard Business Review also has a thoughtful essay on why you need to stop using particular words and phrases. It’s a great resource and helpful read for many.
Third, we also need to think respectfully about disability etiquette and how ideas play out in different parts of the disability community. One should presume competence about us – all of us! We ask that you respect our bodily autonomy, speak to the person and not their companion/interpreter, ask before you help, be sensitive about physical contact/equipment contact, don’t make assumptions about capacity, listen to us, don’t assume you know better and if you are in doubt about what to do, ask! Writer Andrew Purlang sums up his disability etiquette request as follows:
- Don’t be afraid to notice, mention, or ask about a person’s disability when it’s relevant — but don’t go out of your way!
- Offer to help, but make sure to listen to their response, respect their answer, & follow their directions
- Don’t tell a disabled person about how they should think about or talk about their own disability
- Don’t give unsolicited medical, emotional, or practical advice
- Don’t make a disabled person responsible for managing your feelings about their disability, or for your education on disability issues
- If you make a mistake, just say you’re sorry and move on. Don’t try to argue that you were right all along.
Taken together, these steps, learning disability culture, and examining our own attitudes about disability, go a long way towards the development of disability cultural competence. But none of it will do any good if we are not fighting for disability access and disability inclusion, which are central issues for the disability community. Many people think that issues of access were solved by the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. But the implementation of that law is fraught and embattled, and there is lots of work to be done on the access front. Take a look at these simple guides below. They will go a long way in helping to engage the disability community and making us feel welcome! Above all, remember our movement’s rallying cry, “nothing about us, without us!”
Study Shows Immune Cells Against Covid-19 Stay High in Number Six Months After Vaccination
A recent study by Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers provides evidence that CD4+ T lymphocytes — immune system cells also known...
Poverty, Racism and the Public Health Crisis in America
Although extreme poverty in the United States is low by global standards, the U.S. has the worst index of health...
What Do You Know About Disability Cultural Competence?
Recently, I had the opportunity to give a webinar on disability cultural competence to social service workers, but was met...
Five Tips to Ease Kids’ Social Reentry
Pediatric neurologist Jane Tavyev, MD, has advice for parents looking to help their children learn social skills after pandemic isolation....
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