When you think about jobs that are not well-suited to people with a nervous disposition, social work is no doubt at the top of the list.
That said, it is in high demand, much like nursing. It is also a job that comes with a great deal of stress. A study by Randstad in 2017 found that 93% of carers and social workers reported excessive stress, which was impacting negatively on their mental health.
Then there is the social ideology. Some people view social workers as homewreckers. They can be seen as heartless people who take children away from their parents, which is only an option in extreme cases. However, of course, social workers have hearts – indeed, it is a career that focuses on getting the best outcomes for their clients.
With all of these variables, it can be hard to balance stress as well as manage clients who may have mental health issues. So, if you are new to social work, you may be wondering how to cope with the avalanche of work and all the emotional aspects too.
This article provides a brief and simple guide to managing stress in social work.
It Begins At Home
On the internet today, there is a wealth of tools for people to access, such as meditation apps and other mindfulness practices. There are many resources dedicated to helping to ease the stress of social workers and teaching them about self-care.
With all of these resources, you can practice managing stress at home. The good news is that the majority of the skills you learn are transferrable. So, you will be able to practice them in your daily life too. Mindfulness is a big area of interest at the moment, and there are even YouTube videos that can show you how to practice this in your daily life.
The long and the short of it is to find out what works for you. You may not find mindfulness helpful. You may be more of a fan of journaling or even meditation. Just be sure to keep up the search for minimizing stress. Social work is a tough area to work in and it is also a sector with a high burn-out rate. So, aim to make taking care of yourself a key part of the job.
If you are like most social workers, you will have a lot to do in your daily routine, and it is easy for these tasks to become overwhelming.
It is worth noting that when you train to become a social worker, time management skills are not taught as part of it. So, it is a skill that you have to learn and develop on your own, which is intimidating, to say the least!
Luckily, there are some practical tips you can follow.
Do not open your work emails first thing in the morning. This is likely to cause a higher rate of stress and may make the day ahead seem unmanageable. However, it is worth making a list of tasks that need to be completed that day. When you get to the office, then open your emails, as your mind and your body will be in the workplace, thus, making it easier to cope with the tasks.
Manage your to-do list. This sounds silly, but it is effective. Aim to keep the items on it between five and seven in number. Studies have found that shorter to-do lists are more effective at getting the work done. Of course, you can alter it as you complete each task. However, it is a trope in comedy sketches for someone to be handed a to-do list that is so long that it hits the floor and leaves the room. This is not what you should be aiming for. So, keep it short and keep it simple. That way, you will be more productive and will get more done.
It sounds ridiculous, as your workload may increase at any minute, but try to plan as much as you can. This will help you to stay on target and will hopefully help you meet deadlines. Prioritizing tasks is something that every social worker needs to do as well. Aim to plan when you will get reports written, etc. Try to ensure that you have the time that you need to do so, rather than leaving it to the last minute.
Reach out to your colleagues or your supervisor. Try to list the help that you will need to complete each task and seek it out. Don’t try to fill out paperwork that you are new to without supervision. If you are struggling, ask for help. This will help you to manage your time better.
Social work is hard.
You will be faced with emotionally difficult situations every day. Whether they are cases of child abuse. Or clients who have extreme mental health issues. Your job is going to be hard.
This is why you will need someone to talk to. It could be a colleague, a friend outside of work, or even your partner. If you have the time, it could be worth pursuing therapy to help you to get your thoughts in order and to give you an outsider’s perspective.
If you find it hard to shut off at the end of the day, this is a sign of extreme stress. It makes it the perfect time to reach out to your boss or a therapist. If you find yourself projecting negativity at home, this is also a sign that you may need to work on your support network.
Social work is a job where you hit the ground running, and as such, you will need to take on a lot of information in the first few weeks in this role.
That said, you should be having regular supervision meetings with your boss. This will help you to highlight any issues that you may be having as well as allow them to offer insight into areas where you may need to improve. This may sound stressful but try to see these meetings as a good thing. You are given the opportunity to ask for help and to receive feedback. The supervision should be effective and should be based around you improving your skills, not berating you. If you feel that this is what is occurring, seek advice from a member of your team on what steps need to be taken.
You can also ask your colleagues for supervision if possible. However, if you are brand new, they will likely offer you support and advice anyway. Aim to take it on board and try not to get personally offended.
Being reflective has been a theme in this article. In order to be an effective social worker, you will need to recognize challenging situations as well as recognize when you yourself are not feeling well. This can be hard, as you may not want to appear weak, but it is an important role in any line of work where you are providing care to others.
So, aim to take a few minutes each day to reflect on how you are feeling. This is more important if you yourself have a mental health issue or if you have a physical health issue that is prone to flaring when you are stressed. Take notes of how you are feeling within yourself. Is that fatigue new, or has it been going on for weeks now? Do you feel exhausted and achy when you wake up in the morning? How are your eating habits? All of these are indicators of how you may be managing the stress of this role.
It can be helpful to note changes in your behavior or your eating habits and discuss these at your next doctor’s appointment. Speaking of which, many people give up on looking after their health when they are not doing well. So, remember to keep up to date with your doctor, dental, and optician appointments. You cannot very well be advising on self-care when yours is not in a good place.
Reflection is a skill that relies on you being self-aware and considering how you could have handled certain situations better. This will help you to learn and grow in the area of social work while also ensuring that you are able to keep your own health and wellbeing in check. As before, if you are worried about yourself, speak to your boss. Alternatively, seek help from your doctor.
Any role where you are working with vulnerable people is going to be challenging. In order for you to work effectively, you need to take care of yourself.
Stress in the workplace is on the rise around the world. In an area like social care, it is almost seen as part of the job description. However, with the tips mentioned in this article, it doesn’t have to become a permanent state. You want to help people. That’s why you became a social worker in the first place. However, you cannot pour from an empty cup in social work, so you have to look after yourself.