Burnout. A combination of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. Familiar to us all.
However, those in helping professions are working with people in crises constantly, often with limited resources. So, it is often easier for these empathic individuals to experience severe burnout through self-neglect.
Let’s jump into a list of 12 self-care practices to preserve longevity and happiness for social workers dealing with burnout.
Social work is a rewarding, yet demanding, career choice.
Maintain a strict routine to create a healthy work-life balance, not sacrificing your well-being. Reframe your idea of self-care as a necessary part of your routine, rather than an “add-on”.
Take frequent breaks during your work day to recharge. And ensure that you take advantage of vacation days away from the office!
Social workers, experts at giving guidance, sometimes forget to practice what they preach.
If something feels off in your body, or if you’re feeling anxiety symptoms, connect with that emotion or sensation. Pay attention until you figure out what it is, and find its trigger. Then use your vast knowledge of coping strategies on yourself!
This self-awareness could save you from further detrimental issues.
Social workers could benefit from furthering their professional education.
Social work theories and models are always developing and changing. And keeping up to date with the best practices can promote feelings of confidence and competence. Thus, resulting in reduced stress.
Continued education can also help to remind you of your purpose, and boost any lost motivation.
Regular exercise decreases your stress hormones and increases your happy hormones. Endorphins, for example, are very effective stress buffers.
Social workers can choose from a wide range of physical activities, such as strengths-based, aerobic, stretching-based, sports, etc.
Exercise grounds you, improves sleep quality, relaxes your muscles, and increases your energy levels.
Why not spend some of your exercise time in nature, to further promote relaxation?
Often when we’re burnt out, we experience physical illnesses with no discernable cause. Eating a healthy, balanced, and nutritious diet can combat this. And keep your immune system strong under stress.
Concentrate on consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables, and protein. But avoid comfort eating as a coping mechanism for stress by allowing yourself a treat from time to time. Moderation is key!
It’s tempting to sacrifice sleep to find time for everything else. But without a consistent sleep schedule, you’re doing great damage to your physical and mental health. Adequate sleep helps greatly with coping with stress and anxiety.
Social workers can prioritize good quality and quantity of sleep by formulating a relaxing bedtime routine. Put the technology away, avoid caffeine, and do some stretching an hour or two before bed.
Schedule practices such as meditation, breathing exercises, journaling, and time away from social media. Focusing your attention on the present moment can lessen anxiety and depression symptoms, and promote relaxation.
Mindful journaling, for example, can comprise positive affirmations, gratitude, and intention/goal setting.
In your workspace, you could stick up little notes or reminders to practice all of these self-care activities.
Social workers ease others’ suffering, often at the expense of their own. They absorb their clients’ distress like a sponge.
This can lead to compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and secondary trauma, which are detrimental to one’s health.
Social workers can benefit from seeking professional support in the form of a therapist or counselor for their personal challenges. And a supervisor for professional challenges.
Burnout can lead to engagement in unhealthy, self-sabotaging activities that don’t fulfill us.
Choose hobbies that soothe and restore you (reading, music, art, volunteering, spending time with pets, gardening, etc.) and pursue them. Create a balance to include some outdoorsy activities that allow you to spend time in nature too.
Maintain a routine, but keep your activities diverse so your leisure time doesn’t become tedious.
Burnout can lead to irritability with family, friends, and colleagues. This negatively affects your relationships.
It’s also common for social workers to prioritize work over social time, leading to feelings of isolation.
We encourage social workers to consciously make time for people who energize them and bring them joy. Perhaps combine a nature, exercise, and hobby activity with seeing a friend for many benefits in one.
It’s very difficult for healthcare professionals to say no. But sometimes saying no means saying yes to your overall health.
It’s okay to set boundaries and decline tasks and activities that will add excess stress to your life. Being a capable social worker requires taking care of yourself just as much as you take care of your clients. You cannot pour from an empty cup.
Another tip for sustainable stress management is building a solid support network.
Build a supportive network of colleagues and peers who share similar experiences with you. These individuals can provide emotional support by relieving the burden of client issues. Thus, leading to lower feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Other individuals in the healthcare profession could also provide you with professional guidance.