This post may contain affiliate links. Please see our affiliate disclosure.
Self-care seems to be a hot topic lately. It’s getting a lot of attention. You see people post about getting their nails done with the caption #self care or maybe your friend goes to the massage parlor for “self-care.” Little do they know, self care is something that we as social workers have been practicing LONG before it was “cool.” We were basically hipsters of self-care… Okay, maybe not. But it is SO important for us to practice self care.
I check in with my interns that I supervise every week by asking them what they did for self-care this past week and what their plans are for self-care for the upcoming week. The sooner you start engaging in self-care, the better chance you have of not burning out.
What is Self-Care?
- the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.
- the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.
I LOVE the second definition. Self-care means taking care of ourselves so we can in turn take care of others. Have you ever heard the saying “you can’t pour from an empty cup”? It’s true! When you’re stressed out at work, you can’t effectively help your clients. Taking care of your needs will ultimately make you a better clinician.
It’s important to note that self-care doesn’t always mean fancy, glamorous spa days. Sometimes self-care means taking our medications as prescribed, getting enough sleeping, or making a healthy meal. Oftentimes we think we have to be spending a lot of money or doing something over-the-top to qualify it as self-care but in reality, almost anything can be self-care.
Why is it Important?
First and foremost, it’s important because WE are important! We deserve to be happy and to not live in constant stress. Before work or clients or anything else, our happiness matters!
We must take care of ourselves to avoid getting burned out. Let’s face it, social work is a stressful profession. Rewarding, fun, and exciting? Yes. But also stressful. Not only do we have clients who can cause us stress, we also have the not-so-fun stuff like deadlines, paperwork, low salaries, and big caseloads. Our jobs can be very demanding and sometimes it seems like we have to get 60 hours of work to squeeze into 40 hours of time.
When we are too stressed, it can be hard to concentrate on our clients. Our minds wander, we don’t retain all the information that the client is giving us, and it can be harder to pick up on important things going on during session. This does not serve our clients! We need to be able to be (and stay) present during the client’s sessions in order to help them through whatever is going on in their life. When we are distracted, it’s easy to miss things that we might otherwise pick up on (like when your client casually mentions her ex that she wasn’t going to talk to anymore).
Here’s the fun part.
There’s no one way to engage in self-care. It looks different for everyone. Some people like meditating (I HATE it) while others like to exercise or read or watch movies. There’s no one-size-fits-all self-care program. The most important thing about self-care is to make sure it works for you. You may have to change up your self-care plan if you notice that getting that weekly massage is causing you more stress because it’s expensive than helping you relax.
Create a self-care plan
Come up with a list of things you like to do. Reading, writing, painting, hiking, getting massages, going to dinner with friends, cooking, walking your dog… the list could go on forever. Now create a plan for how you’re going to incorporate these things into your life. Sometimes we’re busy and can’t fit in an extra three hours to go watch a movie but we CAN fit in an extra 15 minutes to work out. Make sure your plan is specific. Answer these questions:
- What am I going to do?
- For how long?
- How often?
Make sure you have answers to those questions and that you’re choosing things that are realistic. If you never work out it’s probably unrealistic to say that you’re going to work out every day for two hours. But you could say you’re going to go for a walk for 10 minutes three times a week. Take it one step at a time.
How I Do Self Care
Self-care was something that I learned about in every single class. “Self-care is important!” “Make sure you’re engaging in self-care.” “Take care of yourself.” Blah, blah, blah. I get it.
Until I realized that I didn’t get it. Or rather, I wasn’t DOING it. I got it, I understood it. But I didn’t DO it.
I was new to the field and promoted to a supervisor and working a minimum of 10 hours every single day, usually more. I concentrated on getting everything done (at least as far as my to-do list was concerned) but I forgot about the most important thing: me. I was so caught up in answering emails and checking off that last task that I forgot to take care of myself. Then I heard something that totally changed the way I looked at my job. Ready?
“It’s called work for a reason, there will always be more to do.”
That’s it. That’s what made me change my life. This is what my partner said to me when we were talking about how stressed I was after I checked my email for the third time at the dinner table. My partner very gently pointed out that I was consumed with work and I wasn’t having fun anymore. And she was right. I wasn’t enjoying life. I didn’t enjoy things anymore.
So I took a step back (more like four GIANT steps back) and I reevaluated what was important to me. Was having my inbox at zero more important than spending quality time with my partner? Was that little red dot more important than reading a book that brought me joy?
The answer is no.
I turned off email notifications to my phone. I kept the email on there (sometimes I needed to access it) but the sounds, banners, and that pesky red dot were all gone. This way I only looked at my email if I was intentional about it.
I tried very hard to set boundaries at work at leave at a decent time. At first it was 30 minute earlier than normal, than an hour earlier. Eventually, I was working between 8-9 hours a day, much more sustainable.
I started walking the dog. At first, it was just 2-3 times a week for 10-15 minutes but it very quickly turned into 4-5 times a week for usually an hour or so. I used a hands free leash so I could use my phone to type notes to myself during my walks. Sometimes it was about things I needed to do at work but more often than not, it was about my thoughts, feelings, and emotions- almost like a journal in the notepad section of my phone. It was a great way for me to process what’s going on in my life without the stress. My head felt so much clearer when I started walking. I was a much happier person and it gave me an opportunity to take care of my body and my mind.
I went to the (virtual) bookstore and found new books to read on my Amazon Kindle Paperwhite. (I LOVE my Kindle! It makes it so easy to bring my book anywhere without having to carry an actual book around with me). Reading is so important to me. I have always said if I’m not reading a book for pleasure, I’m not taking good care of myself. Up until that point, I hadn’t read a book in probably a year because I was “too busy.” I love reading and I knew I needed to start doing it. Reading truly is the best indicator for me as to whether or not I’m taking care of myself. When I notice I’m not reading, I take a step back and look at my self-care plan. Something isn’t working if I’m not reading. I readjust and keep moving forward.
I love listening to Podcasts so I make sure I put one on both to and from work. It helps me leave work at work and leave home at home. The drive to and from work gives me the chance to change my mindset, whether it’s gearing up for the day ahead or winding down for the night.
I also started challenging myself so I didn’t get stuck in a rut. I started weight lifting (which scared the crap out of me to be honest) with a trainer and have been doing it for about a year now. I LOVE it! I never would have thought it would be something I did, let alone enjoy.
I try to make an effort to check in with where I’m at with my self-care at least weekly, sometimes more in times of high stress. When things aren’t working, I make a change. If they are working, I make sure I don’t get too comfortable and forget to engage in self-care.
Take Care of You to Take Care of Them
Ultimately how you choose to engage in self-care is up to you. Every single person’s self-care plan looks different. There are no right or wrong answers to self-care or what self-care is. As long as it helps you reduce stress, you’re doing it right!
I want to challenge you to do something within the next two days to engage in self-care. It can be as simple as really washing your hair well in the shower to something extravagant. The choice is yours.
Drop in the comment section and tell me what self-care activity you did or to share some of your favorite self-care activities!