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How to Avoid Burn-Out as a Social Worker

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Social workers are key members in our society and can make a real difference to the lives of the vulnerable and elderly. While many social workers enjoy their job, it’s easy to get reeled into a negative mindset by getting swept up by the distressing realities of the job. In time, this can make it much more difficult to assist clients to the best of their ability.

Unfortunately, constant stress and anxiety can result in burn-out which can have a major impact on a person’s health and wellbeing. If you’re a social worker yourself, it’s important to understand the key signs of burnout, so you don’t fall into a downward spiral.

You must find ways to cope with your stress levels, as many social workers end up leaving the field prematurely with fears they are unable to cope. Constantly caring for others can take its toll on you over time, so it’s essential you are also aware of how to take care of yourself.

Here are just a few key symptoms of burnout to be aware of:

  • Exhaustion
  • Sleep disruptions
  • Lack of patience
  • Anxiety and stress
  • Flashbacks
  • Failure to separate work and personal time
  • Lack of enthusiasm for hobbies
  • Lack of focus

In this guide, we’re going to provide some helpful tips on how to avoid burnout as a social worker:

Set limits

Taking on more than you can realistically manage will only set you up for long periods of anxiety and stress. Make sure you set realistic limits of what you can achieve within your weekly schedule, both for your professional and personal needs, so you don’t stretch yourself too thin. A planned timetable of things to do will allow you to see exactly where you need to be and when – but don’t forget to schedule in some down-time.


Make time for self-care


You should aim to make just as much time for yourself as you for your clients. When you’re not on shift, get your creative juices flowing to help relieve your stress levels. Studies have shown that various hobbies such as gardening, painting and writing can have positive impacts on your mental health.

Many people avoid exercise when they’re feeling exhausted or burnt out in fear that it will deplete their energy levels further, however, research has shown that it achieves the opposite. Physical activity increases the chemical ‘norepinephrine’ in the brain, which impacts the body’s response to stress and releases endorphins, so you feel happier.

If you don’t consider yourself a creative person but enjoy academia, take the time away from work to concentrate on your education. At times, you may feel as though you are neglecting the opportunity to progress in your career due to the intensity of your job. Research has shown that learning new information and skills can help improve your mental wellbeing, by enhancing self-confidence and giving you a newfound sense of purpose. Setting time in your schedule to enroll onto an online social work course will give you the chance to enhance your knowledge and skillset and pave the way for new opportunities in the near future. Find out more information about social work courses now.

Eat, drink and sleep well


Taking care of your body has a major impact on your physical and mental performance, so you must make time each day to do so around your demanding schedule.

Getting the right nutrition is one of the best ways to avoid burn-out, so pay attention to the type of foods you’re eating. Complex carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and oatmeal are beneficial to your diet as they are slower to digest, meaning you’ll feel fuller and energized for longer. Foods with healthy fats such as Omega 3 and fruit and vegetables are also vital to your diet, as they have been proven to reduce stress levels and depression. Try not to skip meals, even if you are short of time. Eating smaller amounts throughout the day can interfere with insulin levels which can cause you to experience extreme fatigue.

Make sure you’re staying well-hydrated throughout your shifts. The body is made up of 60% water, so it’s imperative to every cell and especially the brain. It can also benefit other areas of the body such as cardiovascular health and muscles and joints while cleansing the inside of your body from toxins. It would be advised to drink at least two liters of water per day to improve your physical and mental performance.

Finally, you should aim to be getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night. Although your energy may be sapped from a difficult day at work, it’s still possible to struggle to fall asleep when you’re burnt out as a result of adrenal fatigue. This occurs when the hormones are overstimulated and energy levels are still running high, so your body cannot unwind. It would be a good idea to seek ways to help you fall asleep as soon as possible to guarantee your body is getting the rest it needs to prepare for the following day.

Don’t invest yourself too deeply

Due to the hard-hitting nature of the job, it’s very easy to soak up the troublesome details that clients open up to you about. As social work is a vocation, professionals truly immerse themselves into these situations to help the clients in the best way possible, but this can also lead to complications.

In most cases, the information shared can be disturbing which can contribute to poor mental health. It’s not unusual for social workers to feel distressed by the information they have been told and in extreme instances may even suffer from flashbacks, nightmares and ruminating thoughts. Being stuck in this mindset makes you more likely to suffer from compassion fatigue. If you notice you’re struggling to let go of your thoughts, ask to take a few days off or plan a meeting with your supervisor and inform them that you’re struggling to cope.

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