By Nico Strydom
Social workers in general work under demanding circumstances that are physically and emotionally exhausting. It is therefore essential that they apply self-care and see to their own wellbeing.
Social workers provide services in the front lines and mostly have to set aside their own wellbeing to take care of others. However, this could lead to burnout accompanied by despair, a loss of enthusiasm, heightened irritability, a struggle to focus and a decrease in energy or productivity.
Social workers are furthermore exposed to second-hand trauma on a daily basis, that can lead to feelings of hopelessness, chronic exhaustion, paranoia, feelings of guilt, fear, anger and cynicism.
Those in positions where they have to help others often ignore their own wellbeing and don’t notice the signs accompanying burnout and second-hand trauma. It is extremely important to be on the lookout for signs of problems and to apply the necessary self-care.
Here are some self-care strategies that social workers can apply:
It is important to set boundaries in order for you to manage your time better and to maintain a work-life balance.
When things get tough, it is necessary to acknowledge it and to look out for warning signs. As a social worker you are confronted with other people’s trauma daily and this could easily become part of your life. You might relive the trauma or not stop thinking about it. Get a safety valve to ensure that you aren’t overwhelmed. There is nothing wrong with crying about what others are experiencing or their circumstances.
Make time for yourself. Do things you enjoy and that help you to handle stress. You could consider meditation or yoga or join a support group where you can share your experiences and people make time to listen to you. A diary can help you to verbalise your feelings and also serve as a safety valve.
Eat healthily, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. Good health is important to be able to handle a tight schedule and when you maintain a healthy lifestyle, it will also help you to be less susceptible to burnout and other health issues.
Get help if necessary. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are only human with feelings like everybody else and there will come times when you feel overwhelmed and will also need help.
College of Social Work: https://onlinemsw.fsu.edu/blog/social-worker-burnout
Social Work Blog: http://www.socialworkblog.org/practice-and-professional-development/2020/04/the-art-of-self-care-for-social-workers/
The New Social Worker: https://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/practice/mindfulness-10-lessons-in-self-care-for-social-workers/