Social Workers need to start taking self care more seriously
Self care is something that we tend to take for granted in Social Work and that is a great shame because it means we’re running ourselves into the ground.
This month I have been in my job as a front-line child protection worker in a referral and assessment team for two years.
That’s two years and four managers later I should add!
It’s difficult when managerial changes such as this happen when you’re Newly Qualified and we shouldn’t underestimate the toll it takes on us.
You might be thinking what has that got to do with self care though?
Well it’s about managing that feeling of instability and coping with knowing that you must prove yourself all over again to someone new.
It’s hard when you’ve got used to one person’s way of ‘best practice’ to then be told that was wrong and should learn another way of working.
It’s not surprising that social work is a short-lived career path for so many individuals
It is physically, mentally and emotionally draining.
It is hard not to take that “stuff” home with you.
I have the utmost respect for those workers who do this job and then manage their children, partners, families and other commitments… I barely manage to keep it together myself.
In this context I truly believe that we need to take self care more seriously and demand a little more for ourselves.
Whatever team it is you work in, here are some key points about self care I’ve learned during my first two years as a social worker.
Social work is not an emergency service
The jobs that we do are not a part of the emergency services and we are not (although it can feel like it at times) a blue light service. This means that we sometimes have to take a step back from thinking we must be there for people 24/7.
We are all expendable
This is perhaps one of the harder things that we need to recognise because it makes us feel insure, but the fact is that if we are not there to do the job, someone else will.
It’s a bit like looking at a cog in the machine: if the old part wears out, it can be replaced with a newer, shinier part and the machine continues to plod on.
Whilst this is the case in our workplaces, it is not the case in our personal lives because, to our families, we are irreplaceable.
There is no one who can fill that space for our loved ones if we burn out from working too hard. We are not just a cog in our families.
Self care is not selfish, it is essential
“You cannot fill from an empty cup”
Think about it. If we don’t look after ourselves, are we really going to be able to offer the best support and advice to the people we work with?
Look at it another way; if we are running on empty from putting everything into our work, how will our own families be impacted? We cannot constantly give, give, give and not expect to end up running on empty. This will negatively impact on our own physical health, mental health and general well-being.
So, what can we do to start taking care of ourselves?
Here are some things that I do myself to manage my own self care and that work well for me:
Manage your own and others expectations
Set boundaries around work and make time for yourself. I find that setting clear goals, such as ‘twice a week I am going to leave the office on time’ helps me stick to healthier balance. We’re great at making plans for our service users so need to get better at doing it for ourselves too!
Find something that you enjoy doing and do it!
Whether it’s reading, photography, knitting, fixing the car up or going to the gym – put time aside and dedicate it to your own hobbies and leisure.
Get enough sleep
This one sounds simple, especially when work leaves us so exhausted all the time, but it doesn’t always work out.
We all have those families that play on our minds but that is what supervision and peer supervision are for. Have a sleep routine and try to sleep and wake at the same times every day.
Eat well and exercise
I genuinely believe that one of the reasons I am now a type two diabetic is because I entered social work and indulge in office treats every day.
Eating a balanced diet, drinking plenty of water and getting active does wonders for the mind, body and soul.
So go ahead and try to be a little kinder to yourself. You won’t regret it and it will make you a better Social Worker too!