Keeping Yourself Mentally Sharp in the Fatiguing World of Social Work
Social work is a rewarding but challenging career path. It can lead to acute mental stress and fatigue because all jobs can, and because this one is uniquely challenging. As a social worker, you are constantly encountering people at their lowest, most difficult moments.
That will wear on your over time. When it does, you need to find a way to deal with the stress or risk feeling burned out. In this article, we take a look at how you can keep yourself sharp in the mentally fatiguing world of social work.
Self-care sounds a little trendy or new age but there is nothing fad-like about it. Self-care, as the name suggests, is just about making sure that all of your basic needs are being met.
Why? Because if something happens to the adults on the plane, the children won’t stand a chance anyway. So it goes.
While prioritizing things like exercise, proper nutrition, basic relaxation, and something resembling a healthy sleep schedule can feel selfish, or even childish, these are fundamental aspects of being a healthy and happy person. You can’t cut through your workplace fatigue at any job without examining your life and looking for ways to improve your routine.
As you try to feel better about going to work, it’s important to recognize what is causing you discomfort in the first place. As a social worker, there may well be many things to choose from. The work is sad. The outcomes aren’t always good.
Stir in all of the other typical workplace stressors — you are tired. You have responsibilities at home that are hard to meet while working a full-time job (the dryer is broken again, and you can’t even find five minutes to call it in because you are always at work!) and, and, and…
There are lots of ands. It’s not easy being a working person. Evaluate what makes it hard for you, and work on chipping away at those burdens.
Take a Hard Look at Your Schedule
Your scheduling might not have a ton of flexibility as a social worker, but it is still worth taking a look at it. Is it compatible with your lifestyle? Are you missing things that you’d rather be there for at home?
That’s a good point. Working will always require some sacrifice of time. However, some jobs are more comfortable than others. Think about how your schedule makes you feel. Is there anything that can be done to improve it?
The answer might be no. Still, recognizing the way you feel about your routine is a good early step for change.
Mindfulness is all about recognizing the individual parts of how it feels to exist. It’s all about awareness. Of your breathing, your surroundings, your body. For people who are trying to feel happier at work — or, for that matter, anywhere, it is a great way to experience change.
There are many free or affordable mindfulness programs out there. While they typically do require a daily commitment of time, the investment is modest. There’s an old story about mindfulness and meditation.
“Thirty minutes? I don’t have time to meditate for thirty minutes a day,” says the prospective student.
The mindfulness master strokes her chin and considers this. “Then you, my friend, should be doing it for an hour.”
The harder it is to fit mindfulness into your schedule, the more beneficial it may well turn out to be.
Recognize the Signs Early
Social work is an inherently stressful job. Most people who work within this career path will experience some level of stress or anxiety. That’s normal. However, it’s important to recognize when normal feelings transition into something that is unhealthy.
While feeling stressed about work is a typical feeling, dreading going in is not. If the thought of doing your job makes you feel anxious and upset, it may be time to consider a different career path.
Social work has a high turnover rate for the precise reason that it is emotionally difficult. Like nursing, it asks professionals to interact with people at some of their lowest moments. That will wear on you over time.
What are you trying to say? If you feel fatigued, quit?
No. If everyone who felt fatigued at work quit, well. There would be no more work at all. We’re saying that there is feeling fatigued, and then there is feeling like you need to quit. To live a happy life, it’s important to be able to tell the difference. Understand your feelings, and be comfortable acting on them if and when the time is right.
You aren’t doing yourself, or the people you serve any good by showing up to a job you don’t even want to do.
A Difficult but Rewarding Career
None of this is to say that debilitating workplace fatigue is an inevitability in the world of social work. Challenging though the job may be, there are many people who feel made for it, even after years of seeing and experiencing some very unpleasant things.
If that describes you, then your feelings of workplace fatigue should pass eventually. If you want to stay in the field of social work but feel that you need a change or career refresh, consider going back to school for a social work graduate degree.
Because nothing wakes the mind up like a nice thick textbook?
Well. It depends on who you ask. But the main reason is that graduate studies give you the opportunity for career advancement. This translates into a higher salary — probably not the main reason a person enters social work, but nice just the same — and new responsibilities.
The world needs great social workers. Figure out what it takes to carve through your mental fatigue, and keep at it. You are making an enormously positive impact on the world.