Self-Care Tips: Advice from Professional Clinicians
Social workers often find that their careers add profound meaning and purpose to their lives. The profession is a calling for individuals who want to create positive change for individuals, families, and communities. What is sometimes lost in the everyday pursuits of social workers is the toll the profession takes on their emotional well-being, overall health, and relationships. “Compassion fatigue” and “burnout” are two ways to describe the effect this toll has, and social workers can manage this through proper attention to self-care.
Self-care is essential for social workers to be at their best and is relevant in any social work setting. In this post, you’ll find advice concerning self-care for social workers. We asked clinical social workers, psychologists, and other professionals to offer their personal self-care tips. Take a look below and discover how to incorporate self-care into your life.
2. Amy Morin, LCSW
3. Jessica Sweet, LICSW, Career Coach
4. Robert Weiss, LCSW, CSAT-S
5. Sharon Willhelm, LCSW
6. Beth Watson, LCSW
7. Haley Neidich, LCSW
8. Buck Black, LCSW, LCAC
9. Tommy Blackwell, LCSW, LLC
10. Wendy Becker, LCSW
11. Meredith Tate, LCSW
12. Dr. LeslieBeth (LB) Wish, Ed.D. MSS, MA
13. Sean Erreger, LCSW
14. Stacy G. York, LCSW
15. Susan Lipshutz, LCSW
17. Dr. Alice Boyes, PhD
18. Dr. Keely Kolmes, Psychologist
19. Dr. Gilbert Chalepas, PsyD
20. Dr. Pete Stebbins, PhD
21. Dr. Nicola Bird, Psychotherapist
22. Jonathan Alpert, Psychotherapist
23. Dr. J Renae Norton, Psychologist
24. Jo Hemmings, Behavioral Psychologist
25. Dr. Peace Amadi, PsyD
26. Ken Page, LCSW
27. Melanie A. Greenberg, PhD
28. Joseph Burgo, PhD
29. Linda Freedman, PhD, LCSW, LMFT
30. Jan Bidwell, MSW, LCSW, Psychotherapist
31. Dana Grossman Leeman, MSW, PhD
For me, the most important aspect to a social worker’s self care is having and maintaining good boundaries. This means not taking on other people’s struggles and keeping our personal lives separate from our business lives. I know that this can be extremely challenging for us as people who’ve often been cast as “helpers” our entire lives, yet it is fundamental for both our well being and our success in our work.
If you’re going to be effective in doing hard work, you need to balance the stress with intense fun. And don’t reserve fun for outside the office – make work as fun as possible too.
Wishing You Well Coach
My best tip for self-care is to never, ever let it fall to the back burner. It always has to be top of mind. As care givers there will be many times in your career that you will feel that you should put your self-care last in order to take care of others. It’s never a good idea. Think about your longevity in the profession and your future clients, and make self-care decisions very, very carefully.
We humans are at our best when fully engaged in healthy community and intimate relationships. Note too that the more troubled among us are often the most isolated. So for your health, spirit and mind, always work to stay connected to a caring, engaged group of friends and/or family. Always have more than one person around who will take time to show you the kind of empathy, compassion and support that we all need to be at our best. …And make sure to give the same back – even when you are busy or it is inconvenient, it will always come back to you.
Mommy Runs It
A friend once told me to “move a muscle, change a thought” – and when I’m feeling anxious, overwhelmed, or sad, that’s exactly what I try to do. I’m a runner, so my favorite way to do this is to go out for a run. But any sort of physical activity – walking, stretching, even just getting up and moving my laptop into a different room – can help shift my perspective and allow me to press my internal reset button.
Counseling 4 Less
Life work balance is a must as a social worker. Staying centered in my spiritual life is a must for me to do that. My daily meditation and prayer, exercise, eating habits and rest coupled with a relaxing social life keeps me focused on what is important and allows the best of me to flow through to my clients.
My number one self-care tip is reliance on my spiritual practice. Connecting to something greater than me, through meditation or prayer, reminds me that I’m doing this work to impact the world, and the world needs me to love myself.
Take quarterly vacations, big or small, home or abroad.
Mindful cooking (vegetarian dishes) and eating along with routine exercise are a few ways that I practice self care.
Respect yourself because you are important. Treat the word “should” like a dirty word when thinking of your feelings. It implies so much judgment. We can get caught up in how we think we should be able to handle things or how we think we should be feeling that we neglect to address what we actually are feeling. So let go of the “shoulds” and deal with “what is.”
For me, self-care means putting aside a little bit of time each day – whether it’s a few hours, or only a few minutes – to do something that I enjoy. It might mean going to the gym, grabbing lunch with a friend, reading a chapter in a book, or just indulging in a snack I like. If I don’t have time for this, I force myself to make time; I’m much more productive when I take care of myself.
Are you a procrastinator? Take a tip from author Ernest Hemingway. He made sure to stop at a point that would be easy to pick up on the next day. Once you get going on a task, you are more likely to keep going–even on those more difficult tasks.
Stuck on Social Work
The key to self care is self-awareness. It is knowing that you need to take five minutes and breathe. It is knowing when you need to ask for help. It is also critical that we watch out for ourselves and our peers.
Be What’s Right
My self care tip: I purposely chose a place to live that I love and is peaceful. Then, at the end of the day, I am coming home to an oasis and leaving my stressful job at the door. I also connect with friends often and love to laugh!
Everyday Medicine Woman
One area we tend not to give enough self care attention to is that of the heart and soul within the professional domain. Working with clients, no matter the setting, is a sacred entrustment and much of what transpires is beyond our training and our abilities; the glue of our work is often being able to to hold a space clear and loving manner that offers a person the witnessing and perspective of what they have been through. Most times we can not fully process at a soul level the magnitude of what WE witness and sometimes absorb. I recommend starting a Soul journey. Make entries in a ceremonial form, perhaps on the Full Moon and reflect on the aspects of your work that have truly touched you- the blessings and miracles as well as the limitations, missteps or horrific stories that defy understanding in the human struggle. At the end of each entry find a lesson, a gift and a blessing so that you can keep in touch with the sacredness of the work we do in support of the collective. It can offer us perspective and healing – continue to support our calling and work at a deeper more meaningful level and source satisfaction and rejuvenation at times when we wonder why we are doing such difficult and challenging work. This practice can restore you at a very deep level I promise!
There will be many times in your career when you aren’t sure about whether something you do is ethical or not; when that happens, talk with a colleague (or your own therapist if you have one). If you are unsure, don’t do it.
The Anxiety Toolkit
I take naps. I’m lucky that I have a flexible schedule. I’m most productive after waking up, so taking an afternoon nap means I get to experience this high productivity period twice a day.
My biggest self-care tip is to avoid isolation and working too much. For me, the best antidote to that is to make sure I have at least three social plans in a given week that have nothing to do with “networking” or work. It’s okay if the friends are colleagues, but our focus must be on fun, pleasure, and/or mutual support.
Dr. Gilbert 90210
Healthy, accepting and supportive relationships, whether intimate or platonic, are the centerpiece of living a full, healthy and meaningful existence. Self-care is always a good idea. It becomes even more important while attending college where stress, deadlines and feeling overwhelmed can creep up, possibly affecting our mood, outlook and performance. It’s true, you have to put wood in the stove to get heat. I think you’ll agree that most worthwhile things in life do require work. Healthy relationships are certainly no different. They do take time, effort, and commitment yet can offer us a wonderful sense of belonging, connection and purpose while boosting our happiness and self-confidence. As you look around you may feel that everyone else has it together, but in reality, most people express concerns about fitting in and getting along. It’s a process. Give yourself time and the opportunity to learn from what life brings. As you’re embarking on this exciting and challenging new chapter, always remember to take care of your most precious investment – you.
The Stress Surfer
What Is My Self Care Tip? Stay balanced and make maintaining your well being a top priority – as the saying goes ‘you have to put your oxygen mask on first before you can help others’. Whilst you may know a lot about coping skills and mental health don’t forget to practice what you preach. Importantly remember a healthy mind needs a healthy body and looking after your sleep, diet and exercise will help you stay resilient over the long term.
Practice self-appreciation. Everyday, focus on three qualities that you value in you. Focus on those positives whenever you feel self-doubt or insecurity.
1. Don’t be defined by your profession. Know that you’re much more than a student or a clinician. You’re a son or daughter, partner, friend, spouse, etc. Defining yourself by your profession is limiting and ultimately can be problematic if the career isn’t going well.
2. So often those in the helping professions have a hard time saying no to people. One way to avoid falling into that pattern is to know what your needs are, to put them first, and make sure they are met and fulfilled before doing for others. A slight bit of selfishness can go a long way towards good health.
3. Carve out at least a few hours on the weekend that are entirely yours. No plans, no school work, no chores — just an open schedule. Use this downtime to do whatever you’d like. Might be nothing at all, or exercise, watching a movie, etc. The point is, you’re not obligated to anyone but yourself.
Eating Disorder Pro
As a therapist, I think the most important thing we can do is to learn to take a non-judging stance. Do not judge yourself, your situation or another, especially a patient. When tempted, consciously substitute neutral words for judging words. Judging words drive emotional arousal which prevents effective problem-solving in general and good therapy specifically. Neutral words drive empathy for yourself and for those with whom you are working.
Be aware of and responsive to seasonal changes to your mood. We often underestimate or don’t consider how our sense of well-being alters with the seasons, the weather or the amount of daylight hours. Make the most of the lighter, warmer months by being outside as much as possible and indulge yourself more, with whatever comforts or pleases you, during the darker, colder months.
It’s important to have a regimen that nourishes your mind, soul & body. I start my days with at least 30 minutes of ‘quiet time’, during which I’ll pray/meditate, read something inspirational, and write in my journal. Writing out your feelings helps take the power out of negative emotions and helps your brain make sense of what you’re experiencing. Physically, lowering my sugar intake and making sure I get enough sleep have been crucial. You can’t care about one aspect of the self and neglect the other.
Deepening moments of pleasure.
I find that I can enrich the quality of my life by using my small moments of pleasure as springboards into a deeper state of being. A lovely meal, a hug, an accomplishment, or a new insight; each of those experiences carries a small after-glow. If I take an extra moment to feel that, the small pleasure ripples a bit wider through my psyche and body, and touches points of deeper personal meaning.
Be Your Own Cheerleader, Not Your Own Critic. Going after your dreams is tough and you will face obstacles and failures along the way. But you don’t need to make these barriers worse by beating up on yourself every time you do something that doesn’t turn out perfectly. Honor and celebrate yourself for taking a risk, leaning into your discomfort, or just showing up when you wanted to curl up on the couch at home!
1. Cut back on your caffeine and alcohol intake, especially late at night
2. Take a Vitamin D supplement (necessary for regulating sleep cycles)
3. During winter, use a light box (low exposure to sunlight has been
implicated in depression and insomnia)
4. Get enough exercise, especially cardio
These steps should improve your sleep patterns and make your emotional upsets more manageable. Therapy may still be necessary, but getting enough sleep can help.
Everyone Needs Therapy
I use people. Born to a family that valued independence above all else, it is ironic. But when I need something, or need something done, I’ll beg, if that’s what it takes. Because if you don’t do that too often (maybe that’s the ticket), and if you aren’t terribly needy (another), if you make people feel that they are doing something important, something that matters, either for themselves or others, they’re likely help out.
Because Social workers see and hear things from their clients that can be very difficult to bear, we need to tend to our inner lives so we can maintain an inner steady-state. The singularly most important action I take to nurture and protect myself everyday is to sit still and shift my awareness to my breath, again, and again, and again. When I meditate everyday I am able to remain effective as I help others heal their broken places.
Take time to nurture professional kinships by forming consultation groups. If you aren’t getting supervision at work, or enough of it, ask a few friends over for dinner and talk about your practice. Forming professional learning communities that are fun, safe, sustainable, and combine good conversation with a good meal- can help social workers feel more emotional ballast, imbue their work with energy and new ideas, and breaking bread together fosters friendships and partnerships.
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Lillian Aguirre is a SocialWork@Simmons student from Las Vegas, Nevada, where she has lived for eight years. She earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from the University of Las Vegas Nevada, and is currently the program company manager for a private company that provides in-home services to families who have children with autism...
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Dr. Joanna Almeida is currently an assistant professor at the Simmons College School of Social Work where she teaches “Human Behavior in the Social Environment.” She holds a Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) and Master of Public Health (M.P.H.) from Boston University, and she earned a Doctor of Science (Sc.D.) from the Harvard School of Public Health...