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Helping Ourselves to Help Our Clients

By: Caitlin Sweeney, Ed.S.

Much of my work life involves supporting people amid uncertainty. With the emergence of COVID-19, my conversations with students have been colored by an unprecedented level of anxiety. I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t worried for them, too. Thirty million Americans have filed for unemployment, and many employers have instated hiring freezes. Some economists predict that this will be our worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. It’s not business as usual, and we all know it.

An uncertain job market awaits students as graduation draws near. They’re genuinely concerned about their prospects amid a pandemic. Should I be job searching right now? Will I be able to find work? In some ways, these questions are familiar. The act of job searching, even when strategized, is a venture into the unknown. These trying times demand that we reassess how we engage in career conversations. As we find new ways to do our work, we must ask ourselves: How can we be of the greatest service to our clients? First and foremost, we need to embrace self-care and make it a part of our daily lives. Taking care of ourselves is an important first step in supporting clients, because it invites a sense of hope into our work.

As career practitioners, we are tasked with helping clients navigate the unknown. In these challenging times, we need practical strategies that reconnect us with the hopeful side of uncertainty. Author and NICU nurse Priscille Sibley writes that “There is uncertainty in hope, but even with its tenuous nature, it summons our strength and pulls us through fear and grief.” When we make our healing a priority, we can more authentically support clients as they navigate the job search and other career transitions. If we are coming to our sessions with a more hopeful state of mind, we can help them find new ways to job search and engage in professional networking. By leaning into hope, we invite our clients to do the same. Isn’t that what we all need, now more than ever?

The metaphor of putting on your own oxygen mask before assisting others is fitting for these times. As career service providers, we’re all familiar with the concept of self-care. We’ve seen it on our status feeds and read about it in articles. But, are we actually putting it into practice? Self-care is trendy and for good reason – it’s important. Below, you’ll find a sampling of self-care techniques that can support you (and, in turn, your clients):

1.   Reflect on what self-care means to you. We all unwind differently. Consider the coping strategies that elevate your mood and have a centering effect on your life. Intentionally build in moments throughout the day to put these strategies into practice.

2.   Get back to the basics. Take an honest inventory of your sleep, exercise, and eating habits. Are there changes, even small ones, that you can make to support your health?

3.   Be mindful of your media consumption. From mobile news updates to COVID-themed commercials, we’re regularly being reminded that life is not the same. When needed, take breaks from social media, and limit your news consumption. If reading or watching movies is a source of self-care, consider the emotional impact of what you’re consuming.

4.   Practice gratitude. There’s a growing body of research on the benefits of gratitude. If you’re the writing type, consider jotting down four or five things that you’re grateful for in a gratitude journal.

5.   Connect with others. Reach out to family, friends, and colleagues to see how they’re faring. Even brief conversations can catapult us into a hopeful mindset.

The Oregon Career Development Association is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable and educational entity.

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