Social working: checking in, coping with burnout

out & about

Social work. Eventually you find your flow, you get into the motions. You do your best, you make mistakes, you seek supervision. But it no doubt catches up to you. It sneaks up during a session, or after you’ve disconnected for the day. And how could it not? This is heavy stuff we’re dealing with here, after all. Not to mention during a pandemic. So, how do we cope?

We all have our ghosts. I always say that no one in this field is here for fun. And we’re certainly not here for the pay. Let’s be real, the fulfillment is sometimes few and far between, so we can’t say we’re here for that, either. I believe that we- social workers, therapists, clinicians, case workers, advocates, helpers- are here in this field, showing up and doing the work, because there has been something stirring quietly in us to do this work from day one. We’ve had our own battles, and now we may feel compelled to help others win theirs, or to at least come out on the other side, somewhat unscathed. We feel that we are born to do this. That it’s our passion. But you know what they say about having your passion as your job. When did the lines start to become so blurred?

We’ve heard it all before. Burnout- beware. Self care. Work-life balance. I think those in this field would agree that finding work-life balance quickly becomes an Olympic sport. In my first “professional,” clinical job, needing the ability to avoid burnout like the plague (too soon?) was definitely not in the job description. You can sense the classic red flags of burnout from a socially-distanced-Trader-Joe’s-line-on-a-Saturday away; fatigue, lack of motivation, irritability, asking yourself, “was this the right career choice?” at 2 AM on a Wednesday. We are giving so much of ourselves to others, and it’s taxing. We’re happy to do it, but what are we giving back to ourselves?

I’ve questioned my role in this field plenty of times, but at the end of the day, I know it’s what I love to do, late night progress notes be damned. I’ve been working on a game plan to tackle the burnout. Just as quick as I am to jam-pack my schedule with back-to-back sessions, I’ve also been scheduling time for me. What a concept! I’ve found myself offering this advice to many of the parents and families that I work with, and decided to try it out for myself. I set aside time in the evening for reading, the true love of my life. I cross weekend errands off my list as soon as I can, so that I can make time for my hobbies, family, and partner without showing up looking and feeling like a zombie, even though we love a good zombie. But, friends, partners, and family aside, the same old social work/mental health concept applies here, too. We know that if we’re not giving ourselves any care and attention, how can we provide for the clients we serve? If we’re devoting all our free time to what everyone else wants, how are we taking care of ourselves?

That being said, I’ve been reading as much as I can, messing around with a bullet journal, catching up on podcasts, and I finally gave into watching The Crown. I’m doing my own work in therapy and going whenever I feel I need to. It’s my choice to show up for others in need, but it’s my job to show up for myself, too. So, mental health friends out there, what are you doing to take care of yourself these days? If you’re hearing crickets when you ask yourself that question, sit with that. Take the time and commit to changing that. And let me know what you come up with.

Happy reading, and happy social working.

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