Ammu Prashantini, MSW
Self care. It’s a term often touted by our community of social workers but what exactly does that mean? Our jobs involve caring for others in some form or another and for some, the idea of caring for themselves doesn’t often rise to the forefront of daily thought. Another term we often hear throughout our careers is burnout. This term struck a chord with me very early on, so much so that I used burnout and self-care as my leading motivators to write my research and professional seminar papers during my graduate program at the Hunter College School of Social Work.
I felt passionately about the welfare of my friends and coworkers and wanted my colleagues to be able thrive in their careers without losing the spark that ignited them into this field in the first place.
We all know, whether we’re in school, new to the profession, or well-seasoned, that social work is indeed a draining profession, both emotionally, psychologically and physically…and for some even spiritually. I tend to prefer a focus on the positive aspects of our profession, because we all entered this profession by choice. Something about social work resonated deeply within us and what I think we need to hone in on is how to prevent burnout and how to incorporate practices into our daily lives that will help keep us going strong to be able to do the best for those communities we serve.
As a part of my project, I came up with a handy guide that you can download by clicking here. A lot of it includes exercises you can use while simply sitting at your desk while at work. Feel free to print up a copy and keep it with you at your desk, or pass it along to someone who might benefit from it.
Here are5 tips to successful self care that I have come across in many readings and conversations that I have had with my colleagues over the years:
- Sleep! Yes, we all get some kind of sleep on a daily basis, but do you know just how much sleep you truly need to feel rested? On average, adults need 6-7 hours of sleep every night. I’d wager to guess that you may actually need some more—sleep is the time your body has to recover from all of your daily functions. Can’t get enough sleep at night? Try a nap during the day!
- Hobbies! Sometimes we get so engrossed in our work that it follows us home (be it paperwork that you need to finish or a client’s struggles that you can’t leave behind). Find something to do that isn’t social work related and that can give you some respite from your daily stressors. A new hobby I’ve taken up is knitting. I may have only knit a few scarves so far, but it sure takes my mind off of everything as I try to master new techniques.
- Water! I find that if I get too engrossed in my work, I end up sitting and staring at my computer for long periods of time without a break—which also means I am definitely not getting in enough water. On average, you should consume 8 glasses of water each day to help hydrate your body. Keep a bottle by your desk as a reminder to drink, and as you continually do so it will naturally become a habit.
- Exercise! Yes, the dreaded E-word! I’ll be honest here, this is probably my biggest problem area. I simply cannot find enough time everyday to do this. A little while ago a friend of mine mentioned how her pedometer kept her motivated to walk more. I snagged one and really did notice a difference! They say that those who are most active get in 10,000 steps a day, while an average sedentary lifestyle may get you about 3,000. Try taking a walk during your lunch break, help digest that lunch and rejuvenate yourself for the afternoon.
- Find some inner peace and awaken your spiritual side. The way I see it, you don’t have to be religious to be spiritual. Studies have shown that those who practice some form of spirituality tend to experience less stress. Pray, meditate, practice yoga, go to your religious house—whatever works for you! I find peace in nature—simply going to the park and feeling the grass beneath my toes and the shade of a large oak tree can set my soul at ease. Find ways to bring your soul the sustenance that it needs and you’ll be fully charged to take on the important work that you do.
Whether or not you have heard about these already, try to set a goal for yourself to practice at least one of these methods daily—work your way up to more, but start slow and steady and you’ll keep that spark without burning out!
I’d love to hear how you practice self-care! Please post a comment below!