A New Year’s Resolution: SSW Practicing Self-Care
There can be a cost for caring. As rewarding as our school social work career may be, it can definitely have an impact on our emotional, mental, and physical well-being. It may feel that some days you are putting your own well-being on the back burner. There have been many days in my career where I would leave work an emotional and mental zombie, too drained to socialize with anyone, even my own family members. Some days, I would go without taking a lunch break and in others, my body would tell me I was not okay through tension headaches and migraines.
What is self-care?
The University of Buffalo’s School of Social Work’s Self-Care Starter Kit defines self-care as engaging consistently in activities and practices to reduce stress and maintain and enhance our short- and longer-term health and well-being. Self-care is intentional. Self-care should just be/not be about eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep. It is essential that self-care skills are integrated into daily practice.
Why is it important?
Maintaining physical, mental, and emotional health is vital for everyone, but it can be particularly important for those working in helping professions. The hustle and bustle of our daily work routine may make it nearly impossible for us to practice self-care. Practicing self-care can mitigate burnout, which is a combination of mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion. The reality is that many struggle to practice consistent self-care. In a recent study, Bloomquist et al., (2015) surveyed 786 alumni from CSWE-accredited MSW programs throughout the country and discovered that social work practitioners are not engaging in consistent self-care practice.
Practicing self-care is crucial in the prevention and management of compassion fatigue, stress, vicarious trauma, and burnout. The NASW (2008) understands how crucial self-care is and issued a policy statement supporting the practice of professional self-care as a means of maintaining social worker’s competence, strengthening the profession, and preserving the integrity of their work with clients.
What can I do to practice self-care?
Practicing self-care should be intentional and individualized. The Self-Care Starter Kit suggests developing a self-care plan that focuses on all domains of your life (emotions, mind, relationships, work, spirit, and body). For your self-care plan, you should identify what you value and need as part of your day-to-day life. Activities and practices identified should be positive and identified to be good for your well-being. Some examples:
- Practicing Mindfulness
- Quality time with loved ones or friends
- Going for a walk
- Decluttering your desk or work area
- Scheduling time to do something new or fun
- Practice gratitude
We asked some of our SSW colleagues how they practiced self-care in their daily life and during their workday and this is what they shared:
How do you practice self-care in your daily life?
“I pray daily before going to work. I listen to music, play games, or watch favorite TV show/Netflix for some down time. I talk with loved ones daily (mom, husband, sister).” Jasmine Rosa, School Social Worker in Wheeling, IL
“I try to practice self-care every day but it is extremely difficult. Between school, my internship with an extremely vulnerable population, my job, and my personal life, it feels impossible to find time to do anything for myself. Normally I try to work out every day but that has completely fallen to the back-burner and I’ve definitely noticed the consequences.” Anna Masella, School Social Work Intern in Addison, IL
“ After a day of listening to others’ struggles and helping them to problem solve, I am mentally and physically exhausted. When I get home, I try to do small things like sit in silence on the couch for a while before getting to any housework, returning any missed calls/texts, continuing to work on things I may have brought home with me. I will zone out and watch mindless T.V. like The Bachelor or The Food Network channel. On particularly hard days or weeks, I tend to splurge and try my absolute hardest not to feel guilty about saying yes to the dessert, online shopping, getting my nails done, etc. However, my perfect idea of daily self-care would look like drinking enough water, having time to prepare and eat healthier meals, having time to work out, and feeling like enough QUALITY time has been spent with my family and/or friends at the end of the day. The reality of it though is that time flies by way too fast and although we spend our days flexing mostly our hearts and brains, I end up physically exhausted as well.” Elisa Martinez, School Social Worker in Sterling, IL
“I recently went to a SPARCS training where mindfulness was talked about extensively. The last two weeks I give myself at least one minute a day to practice a simple mindfulness activity. I have seen a change in energy and concentration. I can honestly say I have not practiced self-care in my daily life until recently.” Araceli Briseno, School Social Worker in Chicago Public Schools
“I will typically do my best to not bring work home, and sometimes that means I will stay at work for another hour to finish what is needed. I spend a lot of time with my partner, family, and friends. I’m also involved in a few extra curricular’s outside of school that allow me to change up the routine. Lastly, I make sure to laugh by watching some of my favorite tv shows.” Kelly McGarry, School Social Worker in Hinsdale, IL
What are some things you do throughout your workday to practice self-care?
“I try to make it a habit to have lunch every day with colleagues to give myself some time to eat and have downtime. I also process daily with my social work colleagues. I am very blessed to have 3 other amazing social workers in my building that I can collaborate, process and consult with. Honestly, without being able to do this daily I would be completely burnt out.” Jasmine Rosa, School Social Worker in Wheeling, IL
“Talk to a friend.”– Jorge De Leon, School Social Worker in Addison, IL
“I try to take a lunch period for myself where I sit quietly and focus on what I am eating. Again, this rarely happens.” Anna Masella, School Social Work Intern, Addison, IL
“I make an intentional attempt to take a full lunch break every day, even if that means having to leave the building and eat a quick lunch in the car to get out and have some “me-time” for even 20 minutes. It’s important that I set those boundaries for myself, and also for my staff and students to respect. I also make an effort to take frequent “brain breaks” if I’ve been at my computer typing reports for a while, or in my office for too long in general. This might look like quickly checking my social media, scrolling through pictures or videos of my baby boy, or simply getting out in the halls and socializing about non-work related things with staff and students.” Elisa Martinez, School Social Worker, Sterling, IL
“I do very simple things from observing my breathing for a minute to observing a daily activity I was going to do anyway, like eat a snack. I have started to ensure I drink a certain amount of water and track it because I noticed I wouldn’t drink water throughout the day because I had multiple kids come in and did not think it was okay to step out for a second.” Araceli Briseno, School Social Worker, Chicago Public Schools
“I would consider enjoying a morning coffee as a way I practice self-care, as it is a treat for me every day. I also collaborate a lot with my team and often times problem-solve with them. This has helped me tremendously, as I know it takes a village to support our students, and it is a good reminder that I am not in this alone. I also try to do a good job getting to know people in the building, so I feel like I have my own supportive community at work.” Kelly McGarry, School Social Worker, Hinsdale, IL
As part of your 2020 New Year’s resolutions, we ask you to reflect on how you practice self-care. We encourage you to take time and write a self-care plan or simply practice intentional self-care. Tell us what you think and how you’re doing self-care in a new way for 2020, here or on our SSWNetwork, where over 2,200 school clinicians are coming together to support each other in this important work.
Bloomquist, K., Wood, L., Friedmeyer-Trainor, K., & Kim, H.-W. (2015). Self-care and professional quality of life: Predictive factors among MSW practitioners. Advances in Social Work, 16, 292–311. doi:10.18060/18760
Butler, L. D. (2019, October 28). Developing Your Self-Care Plan. Retrieved December 2, 2019, from http://socialwork.buffalo.edu/resources/self-care-starter-kit/developing-your-self-care-plan.html.
Introduction to Self-Care. (2018, September 13). Retrieved December 2, 2019, from http://socialwork.buffalo.edu/resources/self-care-starter-kit/introduction-to-self-care.html.
National Association of Social Workers. (2008). Professional self-care and social work. In NASW Delegate Assembly (Ed.), NASW, Social work speaks policy statement, 2009–2012 (pp. 268–272). Washington, DC: Author.