Self-Care: One School Social Worker’s Journey
My journey into the world of self-care began this summer at the Loyola Annual Family School Partnership Summer Institute. As a member of the School Mental Health Advanced Practice Program (SMHAPP) through Loyola University Chicago School of Social Work, I attended the institute a day early and had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful school mental health professionals. Among those was Dr. Jonathan Singer, the creator of the Social Work Podcast. Knowing that I would be traveling back and forth by train over the next few days, I decided to give the podcast a try. The first episode that I listened to was centered around social workers and self-care.
The episode, entitled Self-care for Social Workers: Interview with Erlene Grise-Owens, Justin “Jay” Miller, and Mindy Eaves was interview with the authors of The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals. In the interview, the authors discuss not only the importance of self-care for people working in the helping professions and their own well-being, but also the ethical implications of self-care and its impact on clients. Prior to listening to the interview, I knew that I was not prioritizing self-care to the level that I should, but I had not thought about it in terms of it being an ethical obligation. It was clear that I needed to take charge of this area of my life.
My first step was easy. All I had to do was buy the book and read it. The book is a collection of different self-care strategies listed in alphabetical order. A few of the strategies described include Diet, Gratitude, Mindfulness, and Relationships. Each strategy is written by a different mental health professional and is followed by a Reflection/Discussion section and selected resources that include websites and self-care assessments. The authors of the book recommend creating SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely) self-care goals in order to help make them more attainable. As a School Social Worker, this is something that I was pretty familiar with, as I am regularly writing SMART goals for my students. The book includes an appendix with a Self-Care Planning Form, which includes the following areas of self-care: Physical Care, Psychological Care, Social Care, and Professional/Academic Care. For each area, the expectation is to create a SMART Goal and an accountability measure.
Self-Care Next Steps: Identifying What I Needed To Address And How
The second step was to identify areas of self-care that were important for me to address. This step was also relatively simple, as I am already acutely aware of things that I need to change. For physical care, I want to increase my physical activity by doing yoga at least three days each week. I have practiced yoga in the past and it has a noticeable, positive impact on my moods and helps decreases my lower back pain. I have found a woman on YouTube that teaches yoga for beginners. The page is called Yoga with Adriene and I highly recommend it for anyone that is interested in learning about yoga.
For psychological care, I decided I would like to increase my sleep to at least eight hours each night. I have a tendency to stay up late watching television after my kids go to sleep. I enjoy the down time, but I recognize that I am not getting enough sleep each night. For social care, I would like to have at least one non-work-related social interaction per month. Logically, I know that spending time with my friends helps to improve my moods, but I have a tendency to isolate myself, especially when I am feeling overwhelmed. Finally, for professional/academic self-care, I would like to read at least one work- related article or book per month. I am currently still in the SMHAPP Program (graduating in Summer 2019), so I am fulfilling this area well. This is something that I will have to put more effort toward when the certificate program is over.
The third step is all about accountability and is something that is still very much a work in progress for me. One of the things that was noted on the podcast and in the book was the importance of having a partner to help support you, encourage you, and provide accountability on your path to self-care. Because I work in a cooperative, I have the luxury of working with a team of nine other amazing School Social Workers. At a meeting in the fall, several of us, using the book as a model, created SMART self-care goals and agreed to monitor our progress towards those goals. The unfortunate thing is that we are all in different buildings and we rarely see each other in person so we have not been the support to each other that we had hoped. In order to truly be able to support each other and hold each other accountable, we will need to make more of an effort to reach out to each other.
Moving Forward And Holding Myself Accountable
In the months since I listened to the podcast, I can’t say that I have made all the improvements in self-care that I had hoped to make. What I can say is that I have significantly improved my self-awareness. I know the areas that I need to improve on and I have goals to work toward. Interestingly enough, I feel like writing this article may have been the boost in accountability that I needed. Writing this down for others to read makes it real. I feel a responsibility to follow through with my goals and be able to report back about how that commitment has improved, not only my own wellness, but also my ability to provide the best care possible to my students. Now I need to put down the Twizzlers I have been eating as I write this and go do yoga with my daughter!
Editor’s Note: This first-person article is a part of our January 2019 theme, “Self-Care for the School Mental Health Professional.” A big thank-you to Megan for kicking off our month of articles describing how school clinicians can find ways to take care of themselves so they can do the vital business of caring for their schools.