This blog was originally published in December 2020. As this pandemic rages on, the message remains relevant, and so we’re sharing it with you again to mark the 2021 holiday season.
Content warning: This post discusses sensitive topics such as suicide and abuse.
In a year as strange and relentless as 2020, I needed a sense of normalcy more than ever this holiday season, and that came in the form of my annual viewing of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In years’ past, the film’s theme of suicide prevention struck me most. But like a lot of things, the experience of 2020 placed a new filter over the movie for me, and I started noticing elements that, while always there, hadn’t been as noticeable to me before.
The crises of 2020 were relentless. And when the bad news just keeps coming and it feels there’s no end in sight, no clear solution or relief, it can be easy to fall into total despair. George Bailey experiences this very thing in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George passed on his own dreams so the dreams of others could be realized and those he loved could be happy, and for awhile he appears okay with that. Then a series of crises compound, and old trauma and resentments quickly rise to the surface. George, completely devoid of hope and solutions, is now staring into the icy churning waters of a river flowing beneath him. For all his good deeds and sacrifices, look at how bad things are. What was it all for? He contemplates how the world might be better off if he wasn’t here, or if he never existed at all.
George’s scenario got me thinking about the exhaustive work so many people have been doing all throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, only to have things stay the same, or get worse, day in and day out, with no relief in sight. When there’s no clear impact or positive change to motivate you, to reassure you that your sacrifices and work matters, how do you keep going? How do you resist despair and hopelessness?
I think the answer is similar to what we see in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” George can’t see his positive impact until he’s shown a world without him in it. Perhaps we need to briefly imagine what the world would look like without those forces of good working hard to help others.
What would our world look like now if helplines, contact centers, and other community services didn’t exist?
Contact centers and Information and Referral services like 2-1-1 commonly act as their community’s primary source of information about COVID-19, providing information on everything from common symptoms to look for and where to go to get tested. In many cases 2-1-1 became the official state/provincial source of COVID-19 information. Without that centralized information delivery service, health departments, emergency rooms, and medical offices are overwhelmed with people seeking information. Phone lines jam and human resources are syphoned from direct care treating those who are ill. Fewer people know where to get tested. More people get sick, and more lives are lost as a result.
The economic fallout from the pandemic will be with us for some time. Some say the financial recovery may take longer than public health recovery. Thankfully, people looking for financial assistance for their very survival—help with utilities or food—had places to reach. Places where a compassionate and knowledgeable specialist could, in a single interaction, provide ideas and resources that may help with several needs. Without those contact centers, those in need are left feeling lost and overwhelmed. Already worn down by their situation, they must now spend time and effort navigating the network of community services on their own. They don’t know how the systems work. They are frustrated and even more overwhelmed. It takes longer to access assistance. They miss several meals. They only find out about a fraction of the services for which they were eligible.
Quarantines and stay-at-home orders kept people at home more, and for many the people they live with are a source of comfort. For others, it’s a source of conflict or even danger. Suddenly, vulnerable individuals suffering abuse at the hands of a parent or partner, or LGBTQIA youth living with unsupportive family members, were cut off from their daily escapes and support systems. Without services specializing in providing safety and emotional support, they become more isolated. Tensions in the household rise. Abused partners and Queer youth have no professional confidential counseling to access quietly and privately through chats or text messages. There’s no emergency shelter to escape to.
Viruses and physical health have taken center stage this year, but the mental health toll is undeniable. We’ve been going through a collective, worldwide trauma. Everything familiar was disrupted and the entire concept of “normal” disappeared overnight. Many people are experiencing emotions they aren’t sure what to do with, and they aren’t ready to talk to their friends or loved ones. Others lack those connections and are processing things all on their own. Imagine a world without an outlet to help one cope with those feelings. No warmlines or impartial empathetic listeners, no crisis or suicide prevention services. The emotional suffering deepens and spreads, and we lose even more people to a different type of pandemic—suicide—that was present long before COVID-19.
So yes, 2020 was the worst, filled with more crises happening all at once than many of us could have imagined. And in a seemingly never-ending string of challenges, it may feel at times like your contributions, all your exhaustive efforts, aren’t making a dent. If reassurance and evidence of your impact seems elusive, think back to George Bailey’s tour of seedy Pottersville, the bad place version of Bedford Falls. Close your eyes and take a stroll through that scary, imaginary world without organizations like yours, and see that things could actually be much worse. It’s because of the good work of those who care, like you, that it isn’t.
With support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), Data Across Sectors for Health (DASH) in partnership with the Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS), is launching the Learning and Action in Policy and Partnerships (LAPP) program. LAPP will provide award opportunities to community organizations who are partnered with their state government to advance community-led programs focused on data-sharing efforts to improve health, equity and well-being.
Five awardees will receive $100,000 each to:
(a) engage partners to advance existing data-sharing or data-integration efforts;
(b) systematically share data across sectors (e.g., social services, public health, and health care); and
(c) build relationships among community and state partners to inform decision-making and strengthen systems that support community goals for improved health, well-being and equity.
In the second year of the LAPP Program, additional funding and support may become available, based on successful completion of program objectives and deliverables.
Planning to apply? We can help!
If you plan to expand your data-integration or sharing efforts and are considering this award as a way to fund that project, please contact us. iCarol offers a number of ways to harness your data, with other iCarol users and with partners and with those who use different solutions. Let’s get together to discuss your potential project to see which of our many data sharing solutions might work for you in an effort to obtain this funding!
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Click here for more information about the LAPP program
This is the second in a series of blogs about practicing self-care in times of high stress, such as what we’re experiencing now with COVID-19. You can read Part 1 here.
Many people—especially those in helping professions—find it hard to practice self-care even if they understand its importance. There are a number of reasons for this. It is difficult to pause and make time for self-care practices when consumed by tasks at home, work, with family, etc. Helpers might feel guilty about taking time for self-care for fear that they are somehow letting down their families, coworkers or clients by pausing, even momentarily, to care for themselves. With these obstacles in play, it’s important to take some actions to make self-care a bit easier to achieve.
Tips to Help Make Self-care Possible
Start short, and work your way up
Sometimes we associate self-care with activities taking a long bubble bath or treating yourself to a professional massage. While either of those can be great for self-care, these two examples involve a level of time and cost commitment that is unrealistic for many people. Instead, we should think of self-care as something that someone only needs to take a few minutes to achieve at first. While it’s ideal to take more than just a few minutes at a time for self-care, associating self-care only with more indulgent, time-consuming activities can easily set a person to give up on the idea without even trying, because it seems too unrealistic to achieve.
Develop strategies for work and home
You’re going to need self-care options for several different environments and circumstances, so it’s a good idea to keep a few ideas in your toolbox that will work for the setting. Taking a half hour to break and read a book or watch a television program might work at home, but in the office self-care may look more like finding a quiet space for a few minutes of deep breathing and recharging. Try to keep an open mind and find multiple activities that work for you so that you can practice self-care as you find time in a variety of environments.
Pursue activities that are therapeutic for you
When deciding how to care for yourself, think about what you enjoy and what kinds of activities give you a deepest sense of peace, relaxation, or accomplishment of self-care. It can be easy to get caught up in what self-care “should” look like through society’s perspective, but effective self-care is very individualized.
Make it a team effort
It’s a phrase we’ve heard a lot lately— “We are all in this together.” But, the saying is particularly true especially for those who are working directly on COVID-19 response. Caring for others is one of those things you’re good at, and you can use that power to take care of your colleagues, and let them take care of you as well. The power and protection of your team is more meaningful now than ever, so rely on one another to help make self-care a priority. For example, help remind one another to take breaks as needed at work, and be there to process difficult calls with one another. If everyone buys in to self-care as an important part of the workplace, you can all help one another be accountable for everyone practicing good self-care.
April is Stress Awareness Month. Right now we’re all very aware of just how stressful life is, and for those providing any kind of services and response to COVID-19, it is an especially stressful time. When the calls are nonstop, the task list is endless, and the hours are long, that’s precisely when we tend to abandon our self-care so we can focus more attention on work—And that’s the exact wrong thing to do.
It is normal to approach self-care with skepticism. Not so much questioning its importance, but how realistic it is to achieve. The reality is none of us have the free time staring us in the face where we can easily focus on ourselves, the point is you have to make the time and commit to it.
Why is Self-care Important?
Be a more effective caregiver
As the flight attendant says, “In the event of an emergency, when the oxygen masks deploy, be sure to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” Why? Because if you pass out from lack of oxygen, not only do you suffer but those who needed your assistance can’t receive help either. You cannot be an effective caregiver to others if you yourself are suffering from excessive stress or burnout. And the way to avoid getting to the breaking point is to practice self-care along the way, and often, so that stress levels aren’t able to get to the point of breaking you and preventing you from truly being present for each client interaction you are tasked to handle.
Prevent physical and mental health problems
It’s not just about the health and well-being of the people you serve—your own health is put at risk when stress compounds and you neglect a self-care routine. According to numerous health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Canadian Public Health Association, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, American Heart Association, National Institute of Mental Health, and others, chronic stress can lead to several—sometimes serious—health conditions including:
- Digestive problems
- Problems sleeping/insomnia
- Weight gain
- Disruption to memory and concentration
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease and stroke
The American Psychological Association outlines the numerous, and very scientific, reasons that stress impacts your body from your brain to your muscles and everything in between. If you struggle with investing time in a self-care routine, think of it this way: If any of the conditions listed above develop as a result of chronic stress, you’ll end up spending much more of your time, resources, finances—and, ultimately undergo even more stress. Think of the old quote by Benjamin Franklin coined way back in 1736: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Maintain healthy relationships
When things are particularly hectic at work, coming home can be a welcome reprieve. But, left unmanaged, stress can create unrest in your household. Stress is contagious, and so your overall mood or tense demeanor could cause your partner, children, and others in your home, to experience similar symptoms. Stress can cause us to have a “shorter fuse” and lose patience more quickly, leading to bickering or blow ups. And, in this case, one of the scientific benefits of stress—increased vigilance—can make you hyper aware of the faults, annoying habits, and negative behaviors of those around you, again potentially creating more arguments and bickering. Effectively managing stress through self-care can help keep the peace.
How do I practice self-care?
In Part 2 of this blog series, we’ll look at the different ways one can practice self-care to relieve the symptoms and effects of stress.
Why Self Care Can Help You Manage Stress
The Mind and Mental Health: How Stress Affects the Brain
Stress symptoms: Effects on your body and behavior
The Effects of Stress on Your Body
Lower Stress: How does stress affect the body?
Mental Health – Coping With Stress
Stress effects on the body
5 Things You Should Know About Stress
How Stress Affects Mental Health
Is Stress Killing Your Relationship? Why You’re Not Alone
What are the effects of stress on a relationship?
Health Affairs, a leading peer review journal of health policy thought and research, recently issued a request for abstracts on Integrating Health and Human Services.
Description from Health Affairs website:
Health Affairs is planning a theme issue on Integrating Health and Human Services, to be published in April 2020. We thank the Kresge Foundation for its generous support of this issue.
The social safety net includes a variety of health and human services programs that have the potential to improve health and promote health equity by meeting health and social needs and supporting economic advancement. Some of the major barriers to realizing the potential of these programs relate to gaps in coordination across sectors.
Our issue will explore collaboration between sectors that provide health and human services, with attention to infrastructure, policies, and practices within and across these sectors aimed at meeting the needs of the people they serve by reducing sectoral barriers.
We plan to publish approximately 20 peer-reviewed articles including research, analyses, case studies, and commentaries from leading researchers and scholars, analysts, industry experts, and health and health care stakeholders. We encourage author teams that include representation from multiple sectors/professions… Read More
The deadline to submit your abstract is June 24, 2019.
Saturday, February 4, 2017 marks World Cancer Day. This year’s theme, “We Can. I Can.” was chosen to inspire individuals and communities to take actions to help prevent and fight cancer.
Empire State Building lit blue and orange in honor of World Cancer DayAccording to the American Cancer Society, over 8 million people worldwide die from cancer every year, making cancer a global health priority. This year, communities around the world will hold walks, seminars, and public campaigns to raise awareness and educate others on how to eliminate cancer by taking various steps, including cancer screenings, healthy eating, physical activity, and smoking cessation.
Cancer advocates agree there are certain steps individuals can take to reduce their risk of cancer, including making healthy lifestyle choices, knowing the signs and symptoms, being aware of early detection guidelines, and supporting cancer patients and survivors during and after cancer treatments.
As a community, we can all educate others about the link between lifestyle and cancer, dispel cancer myths, encourage healthy living habits at schools and in the workplace, and improve access to affordable care.
Helplines, warmlines, and information & referral services around the world can mark this occasion by spreading awareness of cancer prevention methods and even incorporating a few health workplace activities at their own organization. Together, we can reduce the global burden of cancer and make fighting cancer a priority in our own communities.