Here Comes Summer

Posted by GVT Admin on Jun 26, 2024 11:30:00 AM

Mental Self Care for Social Workers

Burnout is this summer's key word for social workers. The first heat wave has already rolled across the nation, and climate experts tell us there is more to come. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, summertime has been vacation time. The time when workers rest and refresh for another year of labor looming in the fall. Not so for social workers. Research reveals that the demands on social workers pick up in the summer months, but social workers accustomed to the natural rhythms of the American workforce tend to drift into summer expecting to rest and relax like the rest of the world. They are often not prepared for the relentless intensity of need that their clients experience as the summer heat and school closers put an even greater burden on struggling parents, the elderly, and the homeless. As it turns out, just when social workers start to let down their natural guard in step with traditional summer slack time, they are deluged with intensifying client need. In short, social workers are not prepared and without purposeful self-care often burnout during the summer months.

Prioritize Self-Care

The first day of summer has come and gone. Temperatures are in the 90s across the country, and our homeless population is seeking shelter in scant air-conditioned public buildings. The elderly are already quietly at risk in overheated tenement apartments, and working parents are worried about their unsupervised children who won't even have a free school lunch to fall back on. The summer is no time for social service professionals to relax. Many have already learned to schedule their vacation in the waning months like October or April, when neither a steaming summer nor a frigid winter adds to their clients' vulnerability. What they have failed to learn, however, is that because they are unable to enjoy traditional summertime recuperation, they must prioritize self-care during the trying summer season or they will put their own health in serious jeopardy.

Ten Mental Self-Care Steps

  1. Give Yourself Permission -
    In her book, The A-to-Z Self-Care Handbook for Social Workers and Other Helping Professionals, Erlene Grise-Owens, EdD, LCSW, MSW, MRE, offers this insight:  
    "In all likelihood, as you embark on a self-care summer, you’re encountering resistance—including from yourself. One of the biggest barriers is the entrenched, internalized message that self-care is selfish (and, thus, bad!). This week, focus on reframing self-care as self-FULL.
    Giving yourself permission to care for yourself this summer is the first step toward taking your need for rest and relaxation seriously.

  2. Stop all heroics - During the stressful summer months, social workers burn themselves out by seeing themselves as heroes who must work 14 hours a day, six days a week because their clients "need" them. Heroics are ego-centric, not client-centric, and always lead to burn-out.

  3. Recognize the Situation - Young social workers especially, but experienced pros as well, fail to see the summer crisis coming. Inexperience is the cause in novice social workers. Denial is the cause in pros. Let's recognize together that the coming summer months will put unusual demands on our time and emotional endurance, and we must make an immediate self-care plan.

  4. Make self-care your priority - Don't put off resting till you've completed your to- do list. Put rest and relaxation at the top of the list during the summer months.

  5. Make a Plan - Select an exact time every day for your rest breaks and choose your days off and your vacation time (if any) well in advance and then stick to those dates and rest periods as if they were a work priority.

  6. Begin immediately - Today is the best time to begin a self-care plan. After you break the ice, so to speak, with your first rest break or long lunch or visit with your therapist, you will find yourself eager to continue self-care.

  7. Do not wait for vacation - Everyone does this. Waiting for the vacation that never comes is denial in another form and often leads to mental and emotional exhaustion.

  8. Take frequent breaks - When things start to get frantic, take a formal break away from the phone and computer for fifteen minutes every hour. (If that sounds unreasonable to you, you're putting yourself in danger).

  9. Do not sacrifice the good for the perfect - Don't design the model self-care plan and then never get around to executing it. Start now just going to the restroom for an unplanned break and see how good it feels. Do something to care for yourself without planning it.

  10. Self-care is about lifestyle harmony, not life-work balance. That is, work is part of life—not separate from it. And professional self-care is just as important as personal self-care.

It's All in Your Head

Many social workers have become dangerously comfortable with the drama and heroics of social work. You must want to be peaceful and stress free as you go about your work. Self-care starts there.


Topics: social workers, Self Care in Social Work

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