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Preventing Burnout and Fatigue in the Challenging World of Social Work: Self-Care for Helping Professionals

social worker and client

Social workers play a critical role in today’s world. A social worker’s role is to help people cope with issues in their lives. Clinical social workers diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional problems.

Though they are primarily motivated to help others, social workers must prioritize their own health and well-being to be effective. Many social workers leave the profession because they cannot keep up with the physical and mental demands of the job. This is not surprising, as social workers often have to deal with stress, exhaustion, and secondary trauma on a regular basis.

All social workers need to understand the potential challenges of this demanding profession. If you want to continue working in the field, it’s essential to learn strategies for self-care so you don’t experience caregiver burnout and deteriorating mental health.

Why Social Workers Struggle with Burnout

As every social worker knows, helping people isn’t always straightforward. Sometimes, the resources people need simply aren’t available. And some clients can be challenging to work with because they engage in destructive behaviors or have experienced extreme trauma or deprivation. These experiences can be disheartening and draining for social workers, too, making them feel exhausted by the end of the day.

Nearly every family will need the help of a social worker at some time or another, meaning that demand for their services is strong. It’s emotionally and mentally taxing work, and caseloads are usually very high. Many social workers are overworked, overwhelmed, and at risk of developing problems like burnout and compassion fatigue.

Battling burnout as a social worker means finding strategies that work for you. Everyone is different, but here are some common techniques social workers can use to reduce fatigue and avoid burnout.

Set Boundaries

Social work can be very fulfilling, but it can also take over your life and make it hard to focus on anything else. Many social workers struggle to set clear boundaries between work and home, meaning they never get a break from thinking about their work and their clients’ problems.

Setting boundaries isn’t always easy. If you care about your job (and most social workers do!), you might find yourself working late or checking emails when you should be off the clock. You might need help holding yourself accountable while you get used to creating separation between work and home life.

While it might be hard to leave your work at the office, realize that it’s better for your health and work quality. If you get a chance to rest and recharge, you’ll be able to improve your performance on the job and help your clients achieve better outcomes than you would if you were fatigued.

Self-Care Is Key

Social workers are known for being highly compassionate people. However, that comes at a cost: most social workers pour all their energy into helping others, leaving little for themselves.

Self-care is valuable for everyone, but for social workers, it’s essential. Many people think of self-care as bubble baths and pedicures, but that’s not all it is. Self-care has many definitions, but basically, it’s the practice of caring for one’s mind and body.

For social workers, it involves meeting physical needs (sleep, nutrition, hydration, and exercise) combined with practices that promote mental well-being. Many social workers find mindfulness techniques such as meditation and yoga essential to their self-care routines.

Spending time with loved ones and engaging in favorite hobbies and pastimes are important components of self-care. Having these interests and activities outside of work can help you create critical boundaries and strengthen your sense of self. They can also help you avoid dwelling on the cases you encounter at work every day.

Quality Sleep

Getting enough sleep is a key component in preventing fatigue. Although strategies such as setting a bedtime and sticking to it, turning off screens an hour before bed, and finding your ideal relaxation techniques can help, they are not always enough to ensure a good night’s sleep. Getting enough quality sleep can be very hard if you’re stressed out, struggling with boundaries, and dealing with racing thoughts.

To ensure you get enough quality sleep, you’ll need to pay attention to other critical areas of your life. Engaging in regular exercise, reducing your coffee and alcohol intake, eating healthful foods, and ensuring that you have time with friends and family will all help you sleep better and more deeply.

If you are practicing self-care strategies faithfully and you’re still struggling to get enough sleep, then it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor to see what might be causing the problem. You need your rest— for the sake of your job and well-being.

Stay Aware of Your Needs

Working in the field of social work involves many challenges on a daily basis. When you help others for a living, it’s easy to lose sight of your own needs, but it’s important to stay aware and look out for signs of chronic fatigue and burnout. You might also want to consult with a mental health professional if your work is starting to affect your mood and well-being.

Prevention is the best way to fight back against burnout and exhaustion, but be sure to take a break when you need it so you can come back refreshed and ready to help others improve their lives.

If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialists can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.

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About the Author: Sarah Daren has been a startup consultant in multiple industries, including health and wellness, wearable technology, nursing, and education. She implements her health knowledge into every aspect of her life, including her position as a yoga instructor and raising her two children.

March is National Social Work Month

This month, rtor.org honors its two Resource Specialists, Danielle Leblanc, MSW, and Denise LCSW, the two devoted social workers who respond to all requests for help on this website, offering families and individuals compassion, support, and help connecting with resources. We also join with our sponsor, Laurel House, Inc., in recognizing and honoring all other social workers on our staff: Krista Biello, MSW; Jay Boll, LMSW; Daryl Mohammed, MSW candidate Spring ’23; Tyler Nolan, LMSW; Damon Ragin, MSW; Jennifer Sagastume, MSW candidate Spring ’23; Lisa Shapiro, LMSW. We hope you are all making self-care a priority this and every month so you can continue doing the amazing work you do!

Photo by Ron Lach : https://www.pexels.com/photo/low-angle-photo-of-smiling-social-worker-9870136/

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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5 thoughts on “Preventing Burnout and Fatigue in the Challenging World of Social Work: Self-Care for Helping Professionals

  1. Mira Banks says:

    I really like reading through a post that can make men and women think. Also, thank you for allowing me to comment!

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