Stories, or narratives as we might call them in systemic therapy, are all around us. There are stories we tell ourselves. Stories that other people tell us. Stories that mass media want us to believe. Stories that are passed down and through systems until they don’t resemble the original message.
There are so many contributing factors to the stories of self care that it’s important to unpick whether we should believe them or not.
Here are 3 stories of self care that I think new social workers should ignore, and why.
‘There is a right way to do self care’
There’s no right way to do self care. It’s not the type of thing we can take a ‘one size fits all approach’. I’m as guilty as anyone as feeling like a green smoothie and sunrise yoga are the goals I need to attain to, but I regularly remind myself that some things aren't attainable for me (they might be for you!)
The self care I value is about practical tangible tasks that are tailored to individual needs with the overall goal of improving physical and mental health. It’s not big and shiny, its small and simple.
‘If you burnout, it’s because you haven’t taken care of yourself’
This is the story that I hear most often. New Social Workers blaming themselves when they start getting physically ill. ‘I should have done more’, ‘I should have recognised what was happening’. Those stories will fill you to the brim with blame and shame, the least helpful of all the feelings. There are so many factors that contribute to burnout. You are constantly battling against the crippling systems that uphold austerity, racism and the destruction of the planet (I know it’s grim!) but my point is that we can’t ignore the systems around us and the impact they have. If you think you are solely responsible for the exhaustion you feel then take a step back so you can get some perspective.
‘There’s no point trying to look after yourself because burnout is inevitable”
I know it’s hard. I never minimise the impact of stress and strain on social workers .
But I think it’s also ok to balance the positives of this job without it becoming toxic positivity.
You do get to make an impact, you are an advocate, you fight for people’s rights, you care, you comfort, you mediate, you problem solve, you support and you do it all because you aren’t afraid to be hopeful and compassionate.
You have to believe that there are tangible actions you can take to support you on this bumpy social work path. You can take these actions AND still fully acknowledge point 2. It doesn't have to be one or the other.
Taking care of your well-being is possible and it will make a difference. But only when you are doing what is right for you, and focusing on the small steps in your day before aiming for anything bigger.