Self-Care Tips for Fatigued Social Workers
No one goes into social work because of the pay or the perks, let’s face it. People become social workers because they are caring and compassionate, and want to be a positive force in the world. They are willing to do emotionally difficult work to help others improve their lives.
If you’ve chosen to be a social worker, then you know how hard and thankless it can be. Social work is essential to our modern society, yet it can be difficult to stay in the profession without burning out. From secondhand trauma to long hours, many social workers are burned out and just plain tired! There a reason the month of May is dedicated as Social Work Month.
Feeling fatigue is common in the field of social work. Know that you’re not alone and realize that there are ways to fight back against burnout, compassion fatigue, and constant tiredness. Self-care is critical for overworked social workers who are experiencing fatigue.
Sources of Fatigue, Stress, and Burnout in Social Work
There are lots of reasons for stress, fatigue, and burnout among social workers. If you’re working long hours and don’t have sufficient time to decompress after work or get enough sleep, it’s easy to become chronically fatigued. Most social work departments are significantly understaffed, leading to overwork among those who are on staff.
It’s also very easy to bring your work home with you — even if you don’t intend to. As a social worker, you work with people during some of the darkest times of their lives. Some people have truly horrific stories of abuse and trauma, which can trigger issues like compassion fatigue among social workers.
Many social workers also experience stress over the limits of what they can do for the people they’re helping. If your department lacks the resources to really help people improve their lives, it can be easy to feel helpless, jaded, and exhausted.
All of these factors and more contribute to fatigue. Together? It’s no wonder you’re tired all the time!
What is Self-Care?
On social media, self-care is often depicted as pampering oneself with bubble baths or pedicures. While these can be great ways to relax and unwind, self-care is more fundamental than just “treating” yourself.
Self-care is everything you do to maintain and improve your overall health and well-being—both physical and emotional. Preparing healthy lunches in advance so that you don’t have to grab fast food or a granola bar at noon is a type of self-care. Learning breathing exercises that you can use during stressful moments is a form of self-care as well. One simple way to start thinking about self-care is to keep the “5 Rs” in mind:
While it will look a little bit different for everyone, self-care is about prioritizing yourself. Social workers are very selfless people, but this can actually become a problem. If you don’t prioritize your self-care needs, then you’ll end up more fatigued and LESS able to help others.
Caring for Your Physical Needs
Social workers often neglect their own physical needs, both on the job and off the clock. If you work long hours, then you’re probably used to having no time for cooking, exercise, or even a full night of sleep. Unfortunately, not tending to your physical needs will catch up to you, sooner rather than later. Physical self-care includes:
Maintaining a Healthy Diet (with Some Treats!)
Even when you’re busy, it’s important to prioritize your diet. Healthy food will help fuel you during long days and promote good health. However, that doesn’t mean you can never have your favorite desserts. It just means you should eat mostly healthy food and not rely on junk food to get you through the workday. Your diet will influence everything from your energy levels to your mood!
Staying hydrated is exceptionally difficult for some people, but it’s extremely important for your health, especially as a busy social worker. If you struggle to drink enough water, it can be worth setting timers to remind yourself to hydrate or adding herbal tea and seltzer to the rotation to make staying hydrating more appealing.
Making Time for Exercise
In an already-packed schedule, making time for exercise is tough. However, exercise has an incredible ability to help you gain energy — which will help you be more productive overall. Even though it can be difficult to make time for exercise, it’s an investment that will pay off in more energy, better health, and improved mood! Finding exercise you enjoy will help ensure that you make time for it.
Getting Enough Sleep
This is a hard one for many people. If you’re a social worker who feels like there aren’t enough hours in the day, then chances are good you’re sacrificing sleep for other activities. Unfortunately, this will only make you feel worse over time. Occasionally, we’re all going to get less sleep than we should. But when sleep deprivation is chronic, it can cause a number of different problems. Be strict about bedtime — and do whatever rituals you need to in order to wind down and actually get some sleep.
Caring for Your Mental and Emotional Needs
In many ways, physical needs are easier to meet than mental and emotional needs. After all, everyone can benefit from physical self-care like getting more exercise and sleep. When it comes to mental health and wellness, however, things can get more complicated. With that said, there are some tips you can try to improve your mental wellness and decrease fatigue.
Many social workers struggle to leave work at work. But if you’re not able to create healthy boundaries, you will be at risk for issues like fatigue, burnout, and anxiety. Creating a clear separation might mean that you don’t do anything related to work at home — period. However, that’s not realistic for everyone. The boundaries might look different for everyone—the important thing is that they exist!
Meditation and other mindfulness practices can be a great way to fight off mental fatigue, anxiety, and overwhelm. If you’re new to meditation, start small — even 5 minutes a day can be a challenge for novices. Over time, you can build up the time you spend meditating and work it into your daily routine.
Processing what you see and experience as a social worker is important. If you don’t, you’re likely to dwell on your work and find yourself becoming fatigued easily. Journaling can be a great way to clear your mind and process your experiences so you can get the rest and relaxation you need to recharge.
Spending Time with Loved Ones
Relationships are incredibly important for self-care. If you’re fatigued through your work as a social worker, chances are good you’re not spending as much time with your family and friends as you’d like. Make space for your relationships by creating boundaries at work and really enjoy the time you spend with loved ones.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
If you’re struggling with fatigue, symptoms of burnout, or other problems in your social work career, focusing on self-care is important. That might be all you need to feel refreshed and ready to tackle your cases. However, it’s also important to ask for help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and speak with a doctor and/or mental health professional to help you get back on track.
Social work is a noble profession. But if you work yourself to the breaking point and end up leaving it, you won’t be able to help nearly as many people. Take care of your own needs and remember: you’re doing what you can to make people’s lives better!
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