By Dr. Elsha Hermann
We here at Solidarity Helping Hand realise that social workers experience unbelievable work stress, with few resources and emotionally draining cases. This means that social workers often suffer emotional and mental burnout. In Part 1 of “What about us?” we placed a link to a questionnaire for determining burnout.
In order to prevent burnout, it is important to follow an inclusive approach, which includes the physical, cognitive, emotional, social and spiritual dimensions.
Pro-active behaviour must be pursued rather than reactive solutions to the problem.
It is, firstly, important to admit that everything is becoming too much for you and that you can no longer cope. Ask for assistance, decrease your workload, take all your lunch breaks, get away for weekends and focus on relaxation and activities that offer diversion and distraction, such as hobbies.
The following activities may help to combat burnout:
- Get sufficient relaxation
It is sometimes necessary to simply forget about work and really recharge your body and soul. Read a book, get away for a weekend, have a sit-down meal around a table with your family and just chat about the day’s events.
During the working day you must also spend a few minutes to simply relax your body and brain.
Make time for regular exercise such as walking, dancing or cycling. Being in nature is the cheapest medication on the market.
Most of us get too little sleep at night. In order to always give the best service, researchers recommend that you should get at least eight hours’ undisturbed sleep every night.
Do you control your cell phone or does your cell phone control you? In order to really switch off emotionally and recharge your own batteries, it is necessary to sometimes switch off your cell phone. Relay your cell phone answering service to a colleague who is on duty so that you do not feel so guilty.
- Set the necessary targets
Decrease the stress levels in your life by dividing tasks and challenges into smaller, achievable goals. Determine what your maximum capacity is and then set limits to not exceed it. Your capacity is not determined by your caseload only, but also by the number of emotionally draining cases.
We as social workers always feel people are depending on us and that makes it hard to say “no”. You cannot, however, be everything to everybody. For the sake of your own and your family’s wellbeing, it is also good to be able to say “no”. Create balance in your life.
Create a support system at work and also at home. You do not need to do everything yourself; you may ask for help. You need a team to keep you healthy.
- Be in contact with your own feelings
What is the message that your brain and your body are sending to you? Listen to the needs of your emotions and your body. And yes, you may also cry. Share your feelings with your spouse or supervisor, as that will be healing to your body.
Always remember: Your husband or your colleagues are not your therapists. They can merely be sounding boards. Build a relationship with a therapist with whom you can unload. Every social worker always has emotional baggage that must receive attention, because that means we are human.
- Live in the moment and create times for being spiritually enriched
Make time for seeing and experiencing the beautiful things in life. Smell the flowers, feel the earth, feel the sun on your skin and realise where all of it is coming from. Make time to spend with your Creator.
More about the author: Elsha Hermann
Dr Elsha Hermann is a play therapist in private practice and works for Solidarity Helping Hand. Visit www.helpendehand.co.za or send Dr Hermann an email at firstname.lastname@example.org