Social work has numerous rewards for those who choose the profession. However, even with its intrinsic rewards, social work is demanding with challenging workloads. Ultimately, the increasing labor and the more emotional parts of the job can make for a very long workday. These long workdays have a mental and physical toll on the social worker, sometimes leading to burnout.
Conditions that social workers might find themselves facing are compassion fatigue and, in the worst-case scenario, burnout. Compassion fatigue is one symptom of burnout. Compassion fatigue is the culmination of social workers internalizing their emotions about a client to the point that it makes them feel helpless and ineffective. The consequences of compassion fatigue are that the social worker loses empathy and compassion for their client. At work, they might feel distant, detached, or indifferent to the struggles their clients experience. If left unchecked, they could burn out.
Conversely, burnout happens when the social worker is exhausted and exposed to chronic stress. Exposure to poverty, racial and social inequities, and daily emotional trauma of others day in and day out predisposes this profession to fall victim to burnout. Some symptoms of burnout include feeling physically exhausted, ineffective, inability to fall asleep, becoming depressed or anxious, inability to focus, irritability, and feeling emotionally drained.
Being highly susceptible to compassion fatigue and burnout mandates that social workers take care of themselves physically and emotionally. Being highly sensitive to compassion fatigue and burnout demands that social workers take care of themselves, physically and emotionally. These symptoms also lead to a negative attitude toward social work. In addition to experiencing increased negativity, social workers might lose inspiration and motivation to give it their all at work, which leads to a loss of enthusiasm for the job.
What Is self-care, and why is it so important?
Self-care refers to the steps people take to meet their physical, emotional, and mental needs. The World Health Organization, however, defines self-care as the ability of individuals and families to promote health, prevent disease, and deal with illness and disability, among other activities. Those who have mastered healthcare can do this with or without the assistance of healthcare providers.
Self-care typically falls into one of three categories: emotional, physical, or spiritual self-care. Emotional self-care refers to self-talk that we may give ourselves for encouragement, but it also can extend into learning to say no to things that cause stress, treating oneself to a spa, or spending quality time with friends. Physical self-care refers to making sure the physical body is in good condition. Getting enough sleep, for instance, or engaging in a new exercise plan are two ways to practice physical self-care. Finally, spiritual self-care is the stuff that fortifies the spirit, for example, going to worship, communing with nature, or practicing mindfulness.
Quick self-care activities present fleeting therapeutic effects for those who engage in an activity. Regardless of the activity one participates in, these activities are categorized as either temporary or enduring. For example, dining out with friends gives a person an outlet for as long as the dinner lasts. However, when the meal is over, the therapeutic effects of the socializing end unless the person has made a standing date with friends to meet for dinner. In this case, the activity is enduring because it extends beyond just one instance.
Due to current issues in social work, explored in detail in courses such as the online MSW from Florida State University, self-care is essential to maintaining good mental health while working. Self-care emphasizes getting enough sleep, going outside, adopting a healthy diet, finding purpose, and exercising. Below are a few tips for incorporating activities that encompass self-care.
Most social workers have time on the weekend or during their annual leave to take a break from work. Getting away from one’s environment provides social workers with a change of scenery. Whether it involves going on a short weekend holiday, spending the day shopping, or going to the movies, it gives the person a chance to recharge. Participating in any favorite activity can be the therapy needed to return to work to help others solve their problems.
Take a vacation
Most professions offer employees extended time off, as with many social services positions in government and the private sector. Instead of banking that time, consider taking a vacation away from your hometown. A trip even to the next town for a few days provides the social worker with a change of scenery. If activities are included, it gives the person a chance to recharge by engaging in an activity outside of work. When you return home and to work, you are ready, alert, and motivated to dive into social work.
Work on mindfulness
Mindfulness refers to being in the moment and focusing your thoughts for improved concentration. Mindfulness activities can be as simple as spending a few moments in quiet meditation. In addition to these moments, activities, such as yoga or even unplugging from technology for a certain number of hours, can help a person work on their mindfulness. Some have participated in mindfulness groups that engage in meditative exercises for at least 30 minutes daily. The primary benefit of improving one’s mindfulness is that it reduces the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
A chaotic environment can worsen a person’s ability to think, sometimes exacerbating symptoms of burnout and compassion fatigue. A method for reducing the chaos in your environment is to establish goals. Setting goals minimizes the likelihood of burnout, so develop achievable short-term goals. For instance, a small short-term goal that is achievable could be to organize a file system, so your office is less overwhelming or to take time to yourself and read something you enjoy or will find helpful during breaks.
Acknowledge all your emotions.
Remembering how you feel while working is important to understanding your emotions. If you are feeling stressed in certain situations, focus on what might trigger the stress and how it physically makes you feel. Furthermore, when you feel stressed or anxious, this is a signal from your brain that something is off-balance. The way to achieve balance is to be aware of and address the triggers that contribute to stress in the workplace.
Learn to say no
Social work eats up a lot of the workday between home visits and paperwork. In many cases, social workers find themselves at the office long after the workday is over. A social worker already experiencing stress and then adding other commitments to their schedule is exacerbating the problem. A social worker already experiencing stress and adding other obligations to their program exacerbates the problem. At some point, you must draw a line between your work and personal time, which requires the practitioner to say no. ing
Because the nature of the job is to help others, many social workers find it difficult to step away from accepting additional duties. However, social workers must avoid being too thin in a job that emotionally asks a lot of them. The simple act of saying no, even in the face of a sense of duty, is essential to caring for oneself.
Create boundaries between work and home.
Social work is the type where professionals find themselves sometimes taking work home with them. The line between work and personal time can become blurred for the social worker who works from home. This blurred line creates situations where social worker exposes themselves to stress, even during downtime.
For this reason, establishing a stopping point in the workday to leave work and then not return to that work, whether at the office or home, is the best way to create boundaries between work and home life. Consider writing a to-do list containing everything that needs to be completed that day. Once everything is done, or you find yourself at a good stopping point, put the work aside until the next day.
Create a support system and ask for help.
Professional connections serve as a buffer to problems faced while dealing with clients. Having people, whether mentors or friends at work, to speak with when things become difficult can reduce work-related stress. Furthermore, this support system comes in handy when you, the social worker, need help on projects or with clients you feel out of your depth. This can offset the sometimes-isolating feelings in occupations involving independent work, such as social work.
Diet and exercise
Diet and the amount of physical activity we do affects our energy levels. While one does not necessarily have to give up their favorite foods, a balanced diet containing fruits, vegetable, vegetables fibrous foods translate into more energy during the day, in addition, and some form of exercise. A poor diet laden with unhealthy foods compounded by a lack of physical activity makes it difficult to think clearly, much less remain motivated to work.
Most employers offer social workers additional resources to support them. Some of these resources include having a seasoned social worker shadow the person for support, coaching, EAP counselors, and other supplemental resources. A good practice is to become familiar with what is available, so the resources are within access when things get rough at work.
Know when to get professional help.
Someone experiencing a serious case of burnout may need assistance from a professional counselor. Social workers experiencing insomnia, a change in appetite or weight, or thoughts of self-harm indicate they need professional counseling. Other signs that the social worker needs professional help are avoiding triggers, easily being startled, and intrusive thoughts, dreams, or memories.
Getting over hurdles that are obstacles to self-care
Many social workers do not practice self-care because they do not have the energy to care for others. Some social workers want to avoid appearing vulnerable and do not ask for help. After putting so many people before themselves, some social workers are not used to putting themselves first.
The best way to overcome these hurdles to self-care is to make small changes. For example, taking the stairs instead of the elevator to exercise every day, spending time away on the weekend, and talking honestly with colleagues about how they handle stress are ways to make changes that promote self-care incrementally. To stick to your self-care regimen, consider establishing objectives toward a greater goal. These can surround anything that will make you feel good. For instance, if you struggle with cooking after work, consider pre-planning and cooking your favorite meal, perhaps with friends, with a greater goal of becoming comfortable with the recipe to implement in your midweek meals.
Social workers are in the business of caring for others. However, to effectively care for others, the social worker must be healthy emotionally. This emotional health can happen only by caring for yourself.
Social workers face several barriers to self-care in a field where others come first. Even with these barriers, social workers must prioritize doing the things that allow them to remain sane while helping others with their social problems. The only alternative is to let the daily stresses associated with social work build until the person has nothing else to give.
Self-care must be a priority. Self-care must be a priority. Fortunately, unlike in times past, social workers have many tools to ensure they are emotionally healthy enough to help their clients. In addition, social workers can draw on the resources provided to them at work, whether these resources are provided through the employer or whether the social worker connects with on-the-job mentors and colleagues as a part of their social network.