Self care is a huge topic for new social workers. But there’s a problem.
The problem, or more specifically my problem, with self care, is that when I read the words or hear them uttered, I immediately think about sunrise yoga, green smoothies and the image of a beautiful person calmly meditating. Three things I have never associated with social work.
The commodification of self care (for easily influenced social workers like you and me) gives the impression that there is a certain way to do it ‘right’. As soon as I miss a sunrise (every day), grab a coffee (every morning) and rush around my day without stopping to pause, I am wracked with guilt and self blame because I didn’t take care of myself the way I was 'supposed to'.
Self care has to be specific to the needs of the individual and for social workers, self care has to be realistic. Self care is the way we look after our health and wellbeing in a way while connecting with what we do. If you as a social worker can let go of the commodified ideas of self care and come back to basics, you might start by reflecting on your daily routine.
When I work with new social workers, I support you to think realistically about your self care needs.
Perhaps self care is not opening your emails immediately. Maybe your boundaries are so blurred that you check emails over the weekend, and to stop this would be the first step in your self care plan.
Some of you reading this will be frequent lunch skippers. I can already hear the challenge, ‘I don’t have time’, so self care for you might look like blocking out a 10 minute break and giving it the same priority as any meeting or visit you have that day.
These actions don’t look pretty (unless you have a beautifully colour coded online calendar) but they matter. This is how you truly implement self care.
My second major problem with self care is; how far we can possibly take it? The word ‘self’ perpetuates the inner doubt you already have as a new social worker, ‘it’s me’, ‘it’s my fault’ ‘there’s something wrong with me’.
If you are focusing on your self it can often result in tunnel vision. You forget as a new social worker that there are numerous systems in place around you.
I don’t, and never will, claim that self care and boundaries can change the structures around you that deeply impact your stress levels. The danger of not being clear about this, is that toxic positivity prevails and social workers continue to feel it’s all on them.
No amount of meditation will ease your caseload. Reassessing your boundaries will not erase timescales. A realistic self care plan will not prevent you from experiencing stress and strain. But all these things can help you manage and protect your health.
New social workers shouldn’t have to put so much effort into their self care because organizations should be investing in this. But if you are a new social worker feeling overwhelmed and alone, you could be waiting a long time to see any tangible changes without you making the choice to do something yourself.
If you are ready to choose you, if you are ready to commit to taking care of yourself, if you want a realistic way to make it happen…. I’ve got you covered.
Head to the Community Space here and create a login to access a free introductory video from the self care challenge; a new perspective on basic needs for new social workers.