Performance anxiety can often add to the high stress experienced by social work case managers. After all, social worker performance isn’t about how many widgets you make or how much profit you brought to the bottom line. It’s about helping real people deal with real life problems. If your performance is lacking, it could mess up someone’s life or even end it. That's the mindset that leads to social worker performance anxiety.
It’s natural, even fitting. to be concerned about how you perform in your job as a case manager. However, too much concern can lead to debilitating performance anxiety, which makes it harder to do your job properly. That’s why it’s important to have case manager stress relief techniques to lessen that anxiety and help prevent burnout.
The Root of Performance Anxiety
Studies have shown that many social workers come into the job with performance anxiety. They have graduated with their degree or master's in social work and are now worried that they didn’t learn enough and won’t know what they’re doing when facing real people on their own – especially when it comes to dealing with group or family dynamics. They are also concerned with the amount of information that could come out of those sessions and whether they will be able to properly process it all. In fact, many recently graduated social workers are diagnosed with New Social Worker Anxiety Syndrome, something that can affect their ability to provide effective clinical services.
Even experienced case managers can get overwhelmed with the gravity of the cases they manage. This is especially true of those who deal with physical abuse and neglect, substance abuse, cognitive impairment, grieving families, troubled teens and children, displaced youth, clients in suicidal crisis and suicide survivors. When these types of cases go sideways, and there will always be those that do, it’s only natural to be anxious about your performance in that situation and how it will affect the next. Particularly traumatic cases can push even the most seasoned veteran into a spiral of performance anxiety and eventually lead to burnout.
How Case Manager Stress Relief Can Help
Relieving the stressors that lead to performance anxiety are key to preventing social worker burnout. In an earlier post, we provided an infographic with 10 tips for quick case manager stress relief which gives some general things you can do daily to relieve stress. They can help in any situation. But here are some ideas specifically for performance anxiety stress relief:
- Is your anxiety caused by personal or professional reasons? Figure out if your anxiety is related to a personal issue or a professional concern regarding your case. Are you reacting to the case on an emotional level? That’s okay, just understand what the emotion is and why you feel that way. Once you do, you can better deal with it and still operate effectively. If it’s a professional reason – you need more information, it isn’t following procedure, it’s beyond your experience - then seek out the information or help from a supervisor or fellow case worker needed to resolve the issue.
- Are you experiencing information overload? Are there too many details or are you having trouble managing all the factors involved in a case? Getting the right case management software might be a solution to organize and involve other members of your team in managing the information.
- Is there a value conflict? Are conflicting values making you anxious? Perhaps your experience with a client suggests one course of action but procedures require a different one. Remember that value conflicts are normal, trust your experience and find a route that works for the client and the organization. Work it out loud with a co-worker or supervisor.
- Are you feeling self-doubt? Performance anxiety can be self-sustaining, creating a mindset of judgement that focuses on mistakes. A big part of overcoming this is self-talk. You need to address why you feel the way you do about your performance, so you aren’t sidelined by the fear of repeating mistakes. Force yourself to think positively. Sit and write down 10 to 20 positive things you’ve done in similar cases and how they turned out well. Exercises like this can help you stop thinking about only the negatives.
Keep Moving Forward
No matter if you’re a new social worker or a seasoned case manager, there will be times you experience performance anxiety. It’s only natural dealing with serious human conditions on a day-to-day basis. Much of that anxiety occurs not at the time you’re dealing with a tough case, but in the times before and after. Find ways to keep your mind mentally active and not focusing on the issues causing anxiety.
Practice the physical and mental case manager stress relief techniques we’ve shared previously, when you can. And focus on just keep moving forward. There will always be another case and another issue to deal with. Just know, there's another chance to help someone right around the corner.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published in April 2019 and has been updated with additional information and content.