Self-Care Plans During And After A Pandemic
Is self-care the ethical responsibility of social workers and other helping professionals? Terricka Hardy, a social worker and a member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) National Ethics Committee, believes it is.
At NASW’s 2016 National Conference, Hardy presented on “Upholding Ethical Excellence: The Power of Self-Care.” Hardy “wants social workers to know that self-care is not only a good idea, it’s an ethical responsibility” (2017). She went on to say “The NASW Code of Ethics promotes self-care and the pitfalls of professional impairment.” She compared it to a bank account:
“If you continue to withdraw from a bank account and never make a deposit, soon you will be in the red. If we don’t make deposits in ourselves…there is a greater [likelihood] to experience professional impairment.”
If social workers and other helping professionals were not aware of the need for ongoing intentional planned self-care, I believe Coronavirus (COVID-19) has forced them to recognize its critical nature.
As schools prepare for summer school/programming and begin to tentatively plan for the Fall, social-emotional learning is at the top of nearly every school’s agenda. If the student is not able to self-regulate and socialize appropriately with their peers, teaching will be near-impossible. Teachers do an awesome job delivering instruction to students, but it is a tall order to teach a dysregulated student. Often, the teachers seek assistance from the School Social Worker when a student’s behavior is impacting their ability to engage in the curriculum at the same rate as their peers.
Starting My Own Self-care Journey Last Year
As a therapist, Social Workers and other helping professionals give so much to others. The therapist ends their day exhausted and did not take adequate time to refill their bucket before returning to work or running off to help someone else. They are aware that they are unable to fill another person’s cup when their cup is empty or nearly empty. Professionals who have an ongoing self-care plan can avoid compassion fatigue.
According to a post on the School Social Work Network, “less than 12 hours after [their first virtual Professional Learning Community (PLC’s)) on Trauma & Self-Care] went live, [it was] full!” This PLC was offered prior to COVID-19. If you want to meet the needs of mental health practitioners, offer professional development with the word’s trauma and self-care in the title. It is bound to fill up with a staggering waiting list! I was one of the individuals who were able to register for this virtual (PLC) in January 2019. These PLCs were offered by fellow school social workers who were part of the School Mental Health Advanced Practice Program (SMHAPP) at Loyola University Chicago.
This PLC offered me another group of like-minded professionals from whom I learned, shared resources, and was able to build my professional network. It provided an external support system and an opportunity for me to engage in professional development around topics that I needed at that moment. It also gave me a chance to meet students from Loyola’s SMHAPP certificate program and learn more about it. I ended up enrolling in the program shortly thereafter!
One of the first assignments in SMHAPP was to write a letter and share some words of wisdom for a new School Social Worker. As I reviewed this letter, I noticed that I shared, “Self-care is critical” (Williams-Wolford, August 2019).
I encouraged the practitioner to create a weekly self-care plan that included physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, relationship, and workplace self-care needs.
I went on to say, reflect on your plan, and create balance.
Putting My Own Self-care Plan Into Action And Sharing It With My School Colleagues
Pre-COVID-19, I purchased The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals by Erlene Grise-Owens, Justin “Jay” Miller, and Mindy Eaves. It was my goal to read a letter each week and reflect on how I could use this knowledge to create balance and engage in an ongoing self-care routine. I wish I could say that I carried out my plan. This book was always next to my bed and sometimes even in my bed as I would read a sentence or two before falling inevitably asleep.
Although I know the importance of self-care, I was struggling with implementing a plan. I thought about how I planned to intentionally prepare social-emotional lessons for my students to achieve success. I needed to generalize those skills and include them in my weekly self-care plan too. I wanted to be proactive instead of reactive. I turned to prayer more often and praying with my prayer group more. This is a means of self-care for me. I was actively working towards losing weight and I continued to avoid emotional eating. I set guidelines, for example; if it was not time to eat a meal, I would eat a bowl of carrots or popcorn and drink more water.
I felt the need to create a more extensive self-care plan beyond praying and eating. I thought about my physical needs and decided to begin walking my dog for 15 minutes each morning. I started adding five minutes per week to our walking schedule. I thought about my emotional and relationship needs. I discussed these with my family with whom I was sheltering in place and my friends to ensure all our emotional and relationship needs were getting met. I could attend additional virtual church services as my church was offering four services each Sunday. I was also a member of a Loyola University – Chicago SMHAPP cohort which was fulfilling my psychological needs.
In the midst of this pandemic, we are creating new norms to help us cope, function, and embrace the changes so that we and others can remain safe and healthy.
While in the middle of a world pandemic, I was assessing the needs of the families with whom I was working and observing staff during our virtual meetings. Now, I realized, more than ever, how important taking time for self-care was for everyone. We were no longer face to face because we were sheltering at home. I was not able to go into my school’s classrooms and have conversations with my colleagues.
I pondered how I could provide support to so many people while I too was sheltering in place at home. I thought to myself…”ah-ha, have it!” I could share a letter each day by email to help staff assess and engage in self-care. Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I began by sharing information and I dusted off the book that sat on my desk at home and had been my sleeping partner for many nights. I introduced the book to my colleagues via email, The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals. Each morning, I typed a self-care letter and shared the meaning of that letter with the staff along with a visual aide. I informed them that I would continue to email them a letter each day on fundamental characteristics of self-care based on the book.
Some staff commented and some did not. I was talking to a colleague one day and she shared that she had experienced the loss of a loved one due to COVID-19. She remembered that my email said to talk to someone if you need additional support. She did. Although she never responded to any of the emails, she thanked me for emailing her, because, in her time of need, she had remembered that message.
In the midst of this pandemic, we are creating new norms to help us cope, function, and embrace the changes so that we and others can remain safe and healthy. During a time with so many changes, hopefully, our self-care plan has been actualized and only minor adjustments may need to be made. If not, it is my hope that you will see the importance of creating an ongoing self-care plan that will meet your physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual, relationship, and workplace self-care needs. Perhaps this article has encouraged you to begin to create your own plan. If not today, when?
Grise-Owens, E., Miller, J. & Eaves, M. (2016). The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Help Professionals. Harrisburg, PA: The New Social Worker Press.
Pace, Paul R. ( 2017, July). Social Worker Says Self-Care Is Ethical Responsibility. NASW News.
School Social Work Network. Retrieved from https://schoolsocialworkers.mn.co/feed, Retrieved May 2020
Williams-Wolford, Penny. September 2019. Letter to a new mental health practitioner.