Social workers spend a good part of their day addressing serious societal issues. From drug addiction to family dysfunction and generational poverty, mental health professionals are often shouldering the world’s problems.
Social workers may feel weighed down and become overwhelmed by what they hear and the feeling that there is not much they can do to actually solve these tough issues. This feeling can lead to burnout which may interfere with both the ability to perform the job and to function at home. To help combat burnout, here are top tips from Dr. Steven Huberman, dean of Touro College Graduate School of Social Work:
1. When you leave the office, disengage from work. Turn your focus on yourself, your family and your friends. Try to create a routine for disengaging. This can be reading a book on your commute home, which can offer a distraction and a way of transporting yourself to another world; spending 10 minutes playing with your children as soon as you come home; or calling a friend to catch up. The important thing is to create a transition that takes you away from work mode and into home mode and not to let the two modes get interconnected.
2. Exercise. Walking at least 30 minutes a day or burning at least 500 calories daily through whatever exercise suits your fancy is essential. Exercising until you begin to sweat is a good rule of thumb. Increased cortisol, often called the “stress hormone” because of its connection to the stress response, is associated with about 50 % of cases of major depression. Research has found that depressed patients who take a brisk 30-minute walk or jog three times a week experience as much relief as patients treated with standard antidepressant medications. So head off this work-related depression before it gets started by starting and maintaining a regular exercise routine.
3. Don’t stay seated at your desk all day. Make it a point to stand up for at least 5 minutes every hour. One study found that people who routinely spend more than two consecutive hours sitting had a 125% increased likelihood of cardiovascular disease, another study showed that sitting around can mean letting stress accumulate in your body. People who move around stay physically and mentally healthier.
4. Put it all into perspective. As much as you’d like to, you’re not going to solve the refugee crisis or reduce the suicide rate singlehandedly, but you may help one person live in dignity. Every person is his or her own world and you can and should celebrate small achievements. The ripple effect of helping one person will affect his or her family and community and the impact can be quite large. Even if it’s not monumental, making a difference in one life at a time, every day, is an accomplishment of which you can be quite proud.
5. Remember the mission of Touro College. We are all here to help those who are vulnerable and to affect social justice. When you do that, you are staying true to the ideals of Touro College, the social work profession and yourself.
6. Avail Yourself of Peer Support. Remember you are not alone. Consult with colleagues, and don’t forget your fellow alumni and the Touro Graduate School of Social Work faculty members when the stress gets too overwhelming. Once a part of the Touro family, always a part of the Touro family.
7. Develop Interests that Promote Personal Growth. You are not your job. You are a person with many facets and outside interests. Don’t forget to feed those other parts of yourself. Learn to knit, take a painting or poetry class, go rock climbing or whatever other hobbies suit your passions.
8. Reframe Your Life Goals. If your job is overwhelming, ask yourself—why did you pursue this position? What are your career goals and how is this position helping you to achieve your goals? Do you have a vision of what you would like for yourself? Give yourself some time to answer these questions so you can assess whether it might be time for a change.
9. Assess your Stress Reaction. How do you normally handle stress? Are the coping mechanisms working for you? Is it possible you need to think of another strategy?
10. Anything and everything stress-related is exacerbated by not getting enough sleep. Try your best to get at least 6-7 (8 hours is even better!) hours of sleep in order for you to be able to function at peak.