Why is Self Care Important in Social Work?

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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?

self-care/ˌselfˈker/noun

  1. the practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.
  2. 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).

How to:

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?
  • When?
  • 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!

18 thoughts on “Why is Self Care Important in Social Work?

  1. I am so pleased I came across this article. I have been pushing and doing over the last month more than ever. due to the lockdown internet access and speeds and of course children needing laptops for home school in the day, have meant I have been getting up at 4am to get my work done. I have not had time for my children, the same as when I am physically at work. In fact I think I have had less self care, less leisure and being and less quality time with my children than before lockdown!

    You article has made me stop for a moment and reassess. Today I am going to give myself time for self care, to sit, read a book and to just be grateful for the small stuff. the inbox and to do list can wait till tomorrow. thank you

    1. I’m so glad to hear it made an impact on you! Self care is something that is easy to forget about when life gets busy but that’s when it’s most important. I hope you enjoy your book and get to take a moment to spend with yourself and your kids!

      Jess

  2. I truly applaud and appreciate all the hard work social workers have to do. During my dark times, I was lost and depressed, then someone in this field came along and helped me through those times, I will forever by grateful to her for it.

    Self care is really important in all aspects of life and applies to everyday living, I’m glad to hear that you’ve balanced it all out and have found a way to do everything you want to do instead of being in work mode all the time.

    This has really reminded me and got me thinking about my own self care needs, thanks! Now I’ve got to find a way to inspire myself to play more video games, relax and get back into working out after each extremely draining work day.

    1. Thanks for reading! I’m glad that you found value in this article.

      Self care really is one of the best things we can do for ourselves! It’s such an important part of making sure that we are cared for and setting ourselves up for success. I hope you find time to incorporate it into your life as well even after a long day at work!

      Jess

  3. Hi Jess. Having been through the whole process of ‘burning out’ and coming out the other side I now see the value of self care. It’s so easy to get caught up with ‘doing’ in this fast paced world we live in, that we forget to ‘be’. There’s always something more important to be done.
    In my opinion, and after my experience, self care should be introduced in schools. Academics are great ‘n all but, I would argue that teaching children how to care for themselves and identify pitfalls would ultimately lead to greater success, less worry and stress over exams…
    Learning to say NO, and taking/making the time each day for ‘me’ is a crucial part of my day. Thank you for reminding me, I appreciate it 🙂
    Ger.

    1. Hi Ger!

      YES! I all in favor of teaching self care in schools (and showing how to put it into practice). I think it’s a great idea to teach kids to take care of their needs.

      Absolutely love the point about saying no. It’s soooo hard for some people to say “no” without feeling guilty but it’s also something everyone needs to do sometimes.

      I hope you make some time for self care over the next few days!

      Jess

  4. Thanks for this article. It serves as a good reminder to me. I’m probably not good with self-care. Just last month, I have been working late and even during the weekends to meet the deadline for my project at work. I had to stop work in the evening and after putting my kids to bed, I woke up and continue at about 11pm till around 4am! Getting old, probably when I was younger, this is cool. But not now..

    At least I found some time now (actually, I was asked to clear leave) to read and finished reading a book which is trying to tell me to “Find My Why”. Hope I can change my lifestyle. Thanks again for this sharing!

    1. You sound like me when I started out! Work is important but it’s not the MOST important thing!

      Good luck with your lifestyle change. Remember, do what you can and the rest can wait until tomorrow.

      Jess

  5. Hey,

    This is a really important article and topic, especially with the way of the world at the moment. It’s so important that we take care of ourselves, and stick to the social distancing, and stay at home rules. By sticking to those rules we are actually self-caring, aswell as caring for others.

    Trying to keep myself healthy so far is going ok, and I just need to keep up the momentum.

    Thanks for sharing and keep up the amazing work on your site.

    All the best,

    Tom

    1. Hi Tom!

      Thank you so much for the feedback. I definitely agree that staying home and making sure we don’t get sick is part of self care. It’s protecting ourselves and everyone around us.

      Make sure you engage in some sort of self care! It’ll help keep that momentum going! 🙂

      Jess

  6. Great article good use of words and the way it is written in general it kept me interested throughout and wanting to read more!
    Very good, 🙂

  7. Hi Jess,

    A hugely important topic and very well articulated by you.

    I think we all know and appreciate what a great job those in social care/work do, but the admiration of others will only go so far.

    You’re perfectly correct, self care has been, and is a “hot topic” and it so important that we all take some time out for ourselves.

    I guess this is especially true for those who spend the majority of their time caring for others.

    A fantastic article to read and a subject that needed to be brought to our attention once more at this current time.

    Partha

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you enjoyed reading my post. And you’re absolutely correct, we need to focus on taking care of ourselves now more than ever with the stressful times!

  8. I enjoyed reading your article and found myself in it. It’s truly important to take care of yourself – your health, needs, feelings, happiness.
    Great article. We all need to understand what’s really important and to work on it.
    Thank you

  9. Hey,
    I really enjoyed reading this article. It made me so calm. I do agree with everything you said.
    This is important topic, and we should care about ourselves in the first place. This way we benefit as well as people around us.
    Besides eating well and working out, I started reading a lot more a couple of months ago. It is the best decision ever.

    Thank you
    Srdjan

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