by Sherry Saturno, LCSW, DCSW
Social workers save the day, but do they have the tools to save themselves? Have you ever found yourself unable to stop ruminating about a client’s situation and wondering if you could have done anything differently? Or being haunted by a time when you know you did everything that you could to help someone and it still was not enough? Social work is a vocation, as well as a profession. For many caring professionals, the significance of interconnecting with so many lives in need of assistance can take a personal toll.
Self-care decreases social workers’ stress while facilitating balance and overall well-being. There is no one solution in terms of self-care, because what works for one social worker may not work for you. What is important to remember is that in our line of work, you function as your own instrument. Taking care of yourself will produce the tenacity you require to advocate for your clients. Making a commitment to be good to yourself has an impact upon all other aspects of your life, including your physical and mental health.
Social workers who devote time to being balanced will have more energy and focus to accomplish their goals. By engaging in activities that decrease your stress levels and promote physical and mental health, you will boost your resilience and initiative. Self-care practices may range from physical activities such as exercise and healthy eating to assertiveness training. Self-care mitigates occupational hazards such as burn-out and empathy fatigue. Often busy social workers, overwhelmed with demands on their time, function in survival mode. You can begin by asking yourself what your current coping mechanisms and self-care practices are and replacing any negative coping strategies with positive ones. Make a simple plan to lead you through your day and honor it, beginning with small changes. Taking the time you need to care for yourself will make you a more effective social worker; it is not a sign of weakness.
Social workers are strong, but you need backing from others to sustain yourself. Identify your support system, whether it be colleagues, friends, or family, and seek them out. Speak with someone you trust when you find yourself overwhelmed by a difficult situation. If you do not have someone you can confide in, write your thoughts down in a safe place as a release. Find a healthy outlet for frustration, whether it be a hobby, exercise, or spending time with someone who brings comfort to you.
Social workers save lives every day, and it does not mean that you are not a superhero simply because you need to recharge. You accomplish extraordinary acts in the face of great adversity, and this process will only make you more courageous and teach you how to land on your feet, no matter where your work takes you.
Sherry Saturno is a Westchester County District Leader (Tarrytown, NY-Democrat) who works in nursing home administration. She is the National Association of Social Workers 2016 Champion of Social Justice for the State of New York. Her short film, "Human Investment," won the 2016 national NASW Media Award for Best Documentary.
Editor's Note: This article is part of The New Social Worker's Self-Care Summer 2016 Project. For more ideas on self-care, see The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals.