Category: Children's Health, Health Magazine

Title:Self-care for caregivers at Georgetown

Author: Camille Scarborough with Bill Cessato
Date Published: November 8, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially difficult on people working in health care, many of whom have been working extra shifts while dealing with ongoing uncertainty. In times of great strain, it’s important to carve out moments for self-care and quiet reflection.

Two recent Georgetown programs have given health care professionals the opportunity to recharge together in the spirit of cura personalis. These small moments have a large ripple effect as they return to the front lines—providing patient care, conducting scientific research, promoting public health, and managing hospital resources.

Finding peace in restorative yoga classes

On-site yoga classes before the pandemic offered a respite during busy shifts.
On-site yoga classes before the pandemic offered a respite during busy shifts.

For years, Alison Waldman has been working at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital as a Movement Artistin- Residence through the Lombardi Arts and Humanities Program, with her roles including yoga teacher, wellness break leader, and mindfulness guide for staff and patients alike. Through stretch breaks, accessible dance classes for multiple sclerosis (MS) patients, and even a joy-filled Day of Dance in the hospital halls, Waldman tries to bring “selfcare, kindness, and joy in the hospital experience.”

“It’s an honor to work onsite with patients, caregivers, and staff members through movement and mindfulness,” shares Waldman. “Each interaction feels like a gift, like something sacred. If I’ve given just one person a sliver of relief, creative spirit, or agency, I can end the day with a smile in my heart.”

Like so many people, Waldman transitioned to telehealth during the pandemic, starting with her weekly yoga classes. Her classes were the first virtual program offered by the Georgetown Lombardi Arts and Humanities Program in spring 2020, early in the pandemic. At first they were offered only to healthcare professionals, but since fall 2020 she has invited all members of the Georgetown community.

During one restorative yoga class early in the pandemic, she noticed that a pediatric physician had fallen asleep halfway through, and stayed asleep until she closed the Zoom. “He was clearly exhausted,” she says. “It showed me first-hand the stress our health care workers are under. Seeing him respond so deeply reminded me of why I do this.”

Waldman sometimes worries that people have unrealistic expectations about self-care so they don’t know where to start.

“It doesn’t have to be one hour and it definitely doesn’t have to be on a yoga mat,” she explains. “Self care begins with being gentle with yourself as you find the right tactic for your lifestyle. There are lots of tools out there to help you start small, like breath reminders on free apps. Try setting aside just minutes a week until the activity feels easy, and only then add on until it feels the right balance. The hardest part is showing up for yourself.”

Another key component is setting a habit. Part of that process is advocating for what you need.

“Tell your colleagues, your family, your peers if and how you are struggling with self-care and how they can help,” she adds. “You are probably not alone. Connect with each other and create a safe space to talk about it. The sharing can be healing on its own, and can open up a bevy of resources and accountability from each other.”

Waldman will begin online workshops specifically for oncology nurses this fall and hopes to bring the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital Day of Dance back next year when it is safe to do so.

“Lifting each other up” at an Ignatian retreat

In spring 2021, Father Mark Bosco, S.J., vice president of the Office of Mission & Ministry, and Father Jerry Hayes, S.J., director of Ignatian programs, co-led a virtual event entitled “Caring for the Caregivers” that was attended by 150 dental, medical, and nursing alumni.

We use dance to transform a sterile space that’s devoid of personality to one pulsing with possibility,” said Movement-Artist-in-Residence Alice Waldman, who organized an annual Day of Dance prior to the pandemic.

Hayes says that medical and nursing graduates “have stepped into some deep waters this past year, and we cannot support them enough with our love and prayers.”

“Our time together was an act of compassion toward one another. We blessed each other with our online smiles and waves,” Hayes adds. “May we continue to lift each other up as a community in prayerful support and embrace the divine we see in one another.”

Lauren Baker Pappas (NHS’09) expresses gratitude for the presentation by the Jesuit priests, saying, “After a stressful year for everyone involved in health care, it was refreshing to connect to my spiritual self.”

She adds, “St. Ignatius’ teachings and prayer give us a lot to rely on during this time, especially the prayer for generosity, ‘To give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds.’ I will continue to serve the Lord during this time.”

Stretching at the hospital before the pandemic

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