Importance of Self-Care in a Social Work Career 08 May 2020

Importance of Self-Care in a Social Work Career

A single act of charity is worth more than a million grand intentions. And if you encounter one of those rare karmyogis that have dedicated their lives to community service, then what you are seeing is the epitome of charity, whose bodies and souls are a precious force to be cherished and preserved.

A person who enters the field of community service is usually an empath. Someone who feels more deeply for his fellow beings. They commit themselves to social justice and helping vulnerable individuals and communities. Often they see cruelty and abuse which can be heartbreaking. A study conducted by the University of Georgia School of Social Work found that repeatedly hearing the stories of trauma victims doubles the risk of social workers themselves experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

It is important to acknowledge the health risks of this field which can affect the mental and physical well being of a social worker. Statistics show that almost 39% to 65% social workers suffer from a phenomenon called social work burnout which is natural emotional exhaustion that results from spending endless hours of giving to others and forgetting to take care of themselves. Symptoms include feelings of hopelessness, chronic exhaustion, cynicism, social withdrawal, sleeplessness and other stress-related problems. The result is that a large percentage of social workers end up leaving their work and moving on to something else, perhaps less stressful and also less fulfilling.

Those that stay often resort to some sort of short term coping mechanism like emotional eating or in extreme cases, alcohol and drug abuse. An even larger percentage eventually yields to stress-related diseases like blood pressure, obesity, type II diabetes, cholesterol and coronary heart disease.

If a social worker has to sustain himself in this field and make a difference to society, his first duty is to be a little selfish and make time for himself/herself. Taking ME time is the way to ease up on the stress. Listening to music or an audiobook, reading a good book, getting a massage, meditating, making time for friends and family, developing a new hobby, can be relaxing. There are innumerable ways to take some time for yourself, but the end goal is to disconnect from the world and retreat into the centre of your being where one can wash away the accumulated stress and anxiety. The secret is that this should be done regularly.

Introducing regular exercise in your daily schedule. The importance of inculcating this habit cannot be stressed enough. Even if one doesn’t have time or space to have an elaborate exercise routine, scheduling something as simple as a few sets of Surya Namaskar or some breathing exercises can get the dopamines rushing. Whatever the form of exercise that is chosen, the keyword here is regularity.

These methods may sound overused, perhaps even superficial but it has long proven as an effective way of combating stress and depression.

At work, there are a couple of things that will have to be dealt with, like setting boundaries. This may be difficult especially for an empath, but becoming overly attached or involved with a situation can sometimes prove detrimental to the health of the social worker, as well as hamper the rational judgement needed. If one is determined to make a difference and do community service then sometimes stepping back and not being sucked in the emotion enables one to make more of an impact.

Support networks! Even as the social workers provide support to the society, there are times where they need support themselves. Such networks are needed for counselling and encouraging them when the time comes. In such cases, it is prudent to seek such a facility if it is available. Also forming a group/becoming part of a peer group of like-minded individuals that meets up regularly to provide guidance and advice on these matters can be impactful.

Managing time! It may be easy to become overwhelmed with demands from work that are onerous on your emotions and time. Making schedules and following them as far as possible, prioritising tasks, not procrastinating, taking time to recentre and re-evaluate in case things don’t go as plan. These skills are acquired with intention and practice.

Positivity! When someone is constantly exposed to increasingly difficult environments, rising demands, diminishing resources and unending struggle. It may become very difficult to stay positive, but these are precisely the circumstances where inculcating positivity as a habit becomes a necessity. Positivity and happiness have to be consciously chosen over feelings of helplessness. If one needs to rely on a spiritual or higher inspirational ideology then it may make the journey easier.

It takes great courage and self-sacrifice to choose the path of community service and sometimes those around may not always be aware of the little or big stresses that a social worker can experience. The secret is to be self-reliant, be capable and present to attend to your own needs. We are all familiar with the adage Charity begins at home. Listen to these words they contain great truth. Be charitable to yourself first, give yourself the gift of some time to relax and refill your cup.

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