Social workers often spend so much of their time advocating and standing up for children and families that they sometimes overlook the importance of taking care of themselves. While the rewards of being a social worker are plentiful, the job can take its toll—mentally and physically.
Here are 10 simple ways social workers can practice self-care, manage stress and burnout, and boost their well-being even on the most difficult days.
Start a “positivity” file.
Ever gotten a compliment that made your day? Have a story about a family you helped? Listened to a client share how much you’ve improved their life? This file is for that. Every time something good happens, write it down. When you’re having a rough day or could use a reminder of why you started, read a few of the things you’ve written, and know that you are appreciated and what you do matters. You’ve got this!
Get up and move.
This can be as simple as a quick walk around the office a couple times a day, or a short bike ride after work. It may not seem like much, but regular brisk walking can improve your mood, balance, and coordination. Plus, walking provides a host of other health benefits. (PS: If you need a bit of extra motivation on this one, download CharityMiles to make your miles count. You can help earn money for 30+ charities by walking, running, biking, and other activities.)
Shake up your routine.
Fun fact: Changing small, simple things about your daily routine – like which hand you use to brush your teeth or which route you take to work – can increase your brain's "plasticity", which also increases your ability to manage change. This can help lower your stress levels (and the potential long-term effects of chronic stress) when your day or week gets flipped upside down because your brain is trained to handle it better.
Activate your self-soothing system.
Self-soothing can reduce the effects of trauma or simply help you calm down after a difficult visit or conversation triggers your emotions. Focus on the five senses – things like stretching or putting on lotion (touch), slowly sipping your coffee or tea (taste), keeping an essential oil diffuser at your desk (smell), looking at a picture of a loved one (sight), or listening to a song that relaxes you (sound). This list includes more self-soothing strategies for each sense.
Write it down (and throw it away).
Writing down your thoughts and feelings allows you to unclutter your brain, prioritize what’s bothering you, and learn what triggers certain emotions. Most people do this through keeping a journal, but if you don’t feel that a journal is for you, you could always just write down what you’re feeling, crumple up the paper, and throw it away. It sounds silly, but the action of writing down and “throwing your feelings away” has been proven to influence the way they affect you.
Drink plenty of water.
Most adults don’t drink enough water in a day, which can cause mood swings, decreased energy levels, and difficulty concentrating. To avoid dehydration, carry water with you everywhere you go. If it’s constantly with you, you’ll drink it without even thinking about it – similar to how you likely check your phone more frequently if you always have it with you. Not a fan of plain water? Heat it up and add a lemon wedge, or try infusing fruits and/or herbs into your water.
Prep meals and snacks ahead of time.
Ever felt “hangry?” (Yes, it’s a real thing.) That’s because drops in glucose can trigger stress responses. To prevent this, you have to make sure you eat enough healthy food throughout the day. The easiest way to do this is through meal prepping. Pick one day a week to plan your meals and snacks, go grocery shopping for the ingredients, and prepare your food. That way, when you’re too busy during the week to think about food or need to eat on the go, just grab one of the containers you prepped. Get started with these simple meal prep recipes, healthy lunch ideas for busy social workers on the go, and snacks to keep your blood sugar stable.
Set aside 5 minutes a day for play.
Even on the most chaotic days, it’s important to try to squeeze in a few minutes doing things that don’t require too much thought. Spend 5 minutes every day just being spontaneous – color, draw, sit on a swing, or even dance it out! This could also be done in the field if you visit with a family that has young children, so you’re both incorporating play into your own day while bonding with the family you’re helping.
Have the right tools to do your job (without causing extra work).
Relying on outdated tools and processes can make your job more difficult and add unnecessary stress to your day. Even though 37% of workers cite paperwork, inefficient tools, and poor systems as reasons for social worker burnout, many agencies are still forced to rely on manual and time-consuming ways to get things done. Look for ways to cut time spent on paperwork and automate routine tasks (Disclaimer: yes, we’re talking about us) so that you have more time to focus on what you came here to do: help families and kids in need.
Make self-care a priority.
You might be thinking, “Of course I’m going to make self-care a priority. That’s why I’m reading this blog post!” However, it’s easy to put your own self-care on the backburner when so much of your job revolves around taking care of others. You have to commit to being intentional and truly considering self-care a priority – not just something you’ll get to when you have time. Remember it this way: “Self-care isn’t a reward. It’s part of the process.”
Want even more self-care ideas? Check out these sites:
- 45 Simple Self-Care Practices for a Healthy Mind, Body, and Soul
- 17 Ways to Take Better Care of Yourself
- 10 Simple Ways to Practice Self-Care
- Why Self-Care Matters to Your Mission
- Self-Care, A-to-Z: Celebrating March, Social Work Month
|Rich Bowlen’s goal is and always has been to give his very best day in and day out to do the most good for the most kids. As Director of Protective Services at Northwoods, Rich is dedicated to improving the lives of caseworkers and social workers so they can focus on what they do best: supporting the children, adults, and families that rely on the agency’s care.|