How to Practice Self-Care as A Social Worker
Being a social worker is an amazing career choice. You’ll study hard for your social work degree (known as a Bachelor of Social Work, or BSW), and you’ll learn a huge amount about how to do the job to the best of your ability. These new skills added to your special personality traits such as the ability to listen, communicate, be compassionate, and be a problem solver, will all combine to make you an excellent social worker.
However, as much as the job will be something that fulfils you and is something that does make a difference to many people’s lives (including yours), it will also be emotionally draining. There will be situations you find yourself in that are difficult to handle, and it will be your job to help lead others through these situations, being strong for them.
Clearly, this means that earning your BSW and becoming a social worker will have an enormous mental (and to some extent physical) toll on anyone. No one would expect you have to deal with all these things by yourself, and yet many social workers try to do just that. This will only lead to problems in the future, and it might even mean that you are no longer able to do your job properly. Because of this, anyone working in this wonderful but difficult career must ensure they practice self-care. Doing so will keep you much healthier, and it will enable you to continue helping others. If you think you could benefit from self-care as a social worker with a BSW, read on for some ideas on how to help yourself so that you can help everyone else.
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The idea of putting yourself first might sound impossible for a social worker. After all, their entire job revolves around helping other people and seeing to their needs. Yet by putting yourself first when you need to, you will always be able to do a much better job for those you should be helping. You will be more focused, more productive, able to think of solutions to problems more easily, and much more.
There are some extremely simple ways to prioritize yourself, many of which will have no impact on your work (not in a negative way, at least). One idea is to invest in a comfortable chair for your office. This way, when you are talking to your clients, either face to face, through a video chat, or on the phone, you will have somewhere comfortable to sit. Being physically comfortable will help you to concentrate on what is being said and give the best advice you can.
Your comfort is vital, so do what you need to do to ensure it happens. Whether this means putting your favorite art on the walls, having houseplants around you, listening to music as you work, or anything else, it should be done.
Have Healthy Routines
Having routines is a good way to promote positive mental health, as long as those routines are healthy ones. If you are a social worker with a BSW to utilize, you’ll know that every day is different. This could be why you took on the job in the first place. You will be coming across all kinds of people, situations, and challenges that will require your excellent problem-solving skills and communication skills to work with.
This can be a problem when it comes to your self-care and your mental health. Without a strict routine in place, some people start to feel overwhelmed and uncomfortable, and this will lead to stress and anxiety, which is not conducive to helping others as a BSW would require.
This is why you should implement some healthy routines into your life to combat this feeling of overwhelm that you might develop. Starting and ending the day, in the same way, each time is a good way to ground yourself and will give you time to reflect. Good routines could include always making sure you have a healthy breakfast before you leave the house, or always finding 30 minutes for exercise (whether it’s walking, running, going to the gym, following an online video, or something else), ensuring you eat at least two hours before bed, and so on, and getting into these routines when you can help you deal with the unexpected much more easily.
Ask for Help
A BSW educated social worker will always be the one who people ask for help. They will rely on you; they will need you to help them with their problems. This is your job, and this is what you will do.
Yet what if you are the one who needs help? As a social worker, your BSW doesn’t make you immune to feeling down, to needing help, to wondering if you’re doing the right thing, and so on. All it does is – for some – act as a shield, so no one ever knows you’re concerned.
This shield needs to come down, and you need to be able to ask for help, just like your clients have.
To get that help, try to find a mentor within your workplace. This person may make themselves known to you once you are hired, letting you know that they are the person to go to if you need advice or someone to talk to. Don’t worry about being a burden or a problem; if you need help, go to the person who offered it. Alternatively, you might prefer to find help through a therapist who is not linked to your work. This can feel more comfortable and allow for those who need to talk to open up. If you are self-employed, this is the best route.
Friends and family are also great to talk to, but if they don’t understand what you’re going through, they may not be able to offer useful advice. This is why a professional is the best option.
Have Mindful Moments
Self-care should never be something you do only when you finally remember it; it should be prioritized as much as possible. This is why being mindful every day can be helpful. Mindfulness is the practice of being ‘in the moment’ and not thinking about the past or the future. By doing this, you can relieve yourself of the worries of the day and become much calmer and feel more at peace.
It can be hard to do this at first, as the mind will always feel full of things to think about, but if you can tune them out and think only of the here and now, you will feel much better for it. This might involve listening to a piece of music, concentrating on cooking a delicious, healthy meal, going for a run, creating a piece of art, reading a book that makes you feel good, listening to a fascinating podcast, or anything else that allows you to focus on just one thing and forget everything else.
Just 10 to 30 minutes of mindfulness each day will lower your stress levels and help you to focus more on the things your BSW taught you.
Although a social worker might not be tied to an office all day as there is often a lot of home visit work to do as well, that doesn’t mean you are getting to experience the outside world. When you are outside during your working time, you will simply be concentrating on getting from one appointment to the next, focused on what the next challenge will be and who you are going to see.
To make the most of the outside and to feel the benefits of being in the fresh air can bring, you need to intend to be there. In other words, you need to go to a park or for a walk in the woods and look around you, taking note of what you can see. This is another way to be mindful and at the moment, getting you in the right frame of mind for your next client.
However, as well as being a wonderful mindfulness exercise, BSW trained social workers can also enjoy health benefits that the outside world will bring including:
- Better memory
- Less stress
- Lower blood pressure
- Decreased cancer risk (some forms of cancer)
Pay It Forward
Social workers are always helping others. It’s why they studied for their BSW, and it’s why they have taken on the difficult role they have. So, it might seem odd to suggest that a social worker might be able to cope with their work and practice better self-care by doing even more. Yet it’s true.
When you help other people, you are boosting your own mental health. The problem for social workers is that, although they are certainly helping others, their mental health is often negatively affected because of all the painful situations their clients find themselves in. A social worker doesn’t just listen to one terrible thing each day, but multiple, and although there are lots of happy endings, hearing those stories is detrimental to your mental health.
If you can boost your mental health by helping others who are not connected to your work, you will feel better. You can pay for someone’s meal in a café or fast-food establishment. You could donate things you no longer need to charity. You could donate money to a good cause, or even volunteer if you feel you can.
As long as whatever it is you do to pay it forward doesn’t drain your own emotional and mental resources and it’s helping someone else, you will feel better for it, and be ready to take on the next day’s challenges.
We’ve briefly touched on having healthy habits, but something that definitely needs to be included in any social worker’s life if they want to make the most of their BSW and help the people they are charged with assisting is eating better. It’s easy to grab some takeout or quickly heat up a microwave dinner. It’s easy to skip meals when you’re busy, and you want to get to bed or head out the door for your next appointment.
However, eating properly, and regularly, will do you much better than anything else, and it will help you to help your clients more too.
A good, well-balanced diet will contain all the vitamins and nutrients that a body needs to function properly. You’ll need to have plenty of vegetables and fruit, with these making up the bulk of each meal. Once you have ensured this is the case, you can add other items like carbohydrates and protein.
The best way to do all of this is to make your meals from scratch, but with the hectic life of a social worker, this can be hard. An alternative would be to bulk cook healthy meals and freeze them when you do have time so that, when you’re short on time, you simply have to heat them up.
Social work is the right choice for a specific set of people. These are people who are willing to help as many others as possible, and who can ask for help when they need it. These are people who are compassionate and caring, who can listen and who have excellent communication skills. Although many people want to be social workers, not everyone has all of these skills in abundance, and that might mean that social work in not quite right for you.
You might discover this while studying for your BSW, or it might come later when you are working with real people and have discovered just what the job entails.
If you think that you would be happier working in a different job, there is no shame in admitting this and moving on. You need to be happy yourself. Otherwise, you’ll be affecting the rest of your life.
The good news is that if you do find that this is what you need to do, you can still use your BSW. There are many other careers that this degree will help you with including some unusual ones, such as being a detective or a health administrator.
Finding out more about what else you can do that will put your skills to good use is crucial to ensure you are taking the best care of yourself at all times.