Social work is easily some of the most consistently rewarding, challenging, and draining work that a person can dedicate their lives to. The intensity of what can be required in terms of the types of cases attended to – from foster care, intervening in abusive relationships, or advocating for the poor and mentally ill – necessarily means that such professionals expend a lot of emotional energy just relating to those persons.
Without the knowledge of when and how to recognise and manage the signs associated with burnout, many professionals – even those found in the 10 best states to be a social worker – run the risk of developing health problems and being less effective. In consideration of these realities, it is wise for clinical social workers to implement and maintain habits that support their health.
Here are some suggestions for ways that social workers can better maintain mental health for optimal performance in life and career:
Self-care is a hot topic nowadays. Though it is (thankfully) nothing new and is becoming gradually more important and standardised in nearly every aspect of society, there are many people who are still unfamiliar with how damaging stress is and what the signs of those symptoms may be.
Self-care can be described simply as being intentional about taking time away from the day’s responsibilities and stressors in order to rebalance and recharge one’s heart, body, and mind so that they can approach the following days with energy, joy, and strength. Energy, strength, and joy are mental, emotional, and physical balances that, when optimally circulating, do much to effect positive change in a professional’s personal and career life. However, the opposite is just as true.
Without taking the time to manage everyday challenges, stress hormones like cortisol can do great and sometimes lasting damage to an individual. Relieving and mitigating those stressors allows the brain and body time to recharge, which helps with mood, memory, and focus.
All professionals are required to give a lot of their time to attending to the responsibilities that work demands. However, that is only one fraction of a life that fluctuates between relationships, sleep, hobbies, nutrition, or other things. Being aware of this balance and doing well to respect and defend the necessity of a healthy, balanced life means setting boundaries.
Making sure one’s schedule allows for time off from work responsibilities to eat, sleep, have fun, and recharge is essential to self-care. Without it, people can quickly become swamped by the torrent of stress hormones.
Everyone needs it, but not everyone respects how important regular, consistent, and deep sleep is for maintaining mental health. Inadequate sleep can have fast, powerful, and lasting negative effects on people’s health. A lack of good sleep contributes to weight gain, low energy, emotional instability, and, over time, has been linked to the onset of serious illnesses: heart disease, strokes, depression, anxiety, and even diabetes. Prioritising sleep and setting boundaries to protect that time are essential to mental health.
This is another point that most people are familiar with but may not be regular in practice, and that makes sense because exercise takes energy. If someone is too tired after a long, stressful day, it is much harder to justify or even want to be diligent about maintaining an exercise routine. Ironically, being physically active – even when someone is tired – actually helps to re-energise and revitalise the mind and body. More blood and oxygen getting circulated, in combination with the release of healthy hormones, is a great aid to mental health.
Ellen Diamond, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.