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Helping the Helpers Help Themselves: A Guide for Social Workers to Assess and Prioritize Self-Care

The field of Social work goes way back. It’s grounded in compassion and empathy, and the demands of the job too often lead to burnout and emotional exhaustion. The rate of employment churn in our field is a dead giveaway. It’s crucial for social workers to prioritize self-care in order to maintain their own well-being. It’s the only way to continue providing effective support to the people we serve. Here, we’re going to explore how social workers can assess self-care needs and then IMPLEMENT THEM. (All caps b/c it's not enough to just know them. Action is where the magic happens).

Identifying Self-Care Needs

  1. Reflect on Emotional Triggers: Due to the clients and situations served, social work can be emotionally taxing. Be mindful to take time and reflect on which situations or interactions trigger strong emotions. It never hurts to take notes and journal on this. It can only help to understand these triggers and identify specific self-care needs.

  2. Recognize Physical and Mental Signs of Stress: Be mindful of physical and mental signs of stress such as fatigue, irritability, anxiety, or changes in sleep patterns or appetite. These signals can serve as a valuable gauge for assessing your self-care needs. Becoming frayed is part of the gig. Don’t get down on yourself.

  3. Evaluate Work-Life Balance: Assess how well you balance your professional responsibilities with your personal life. Are you dedicating enough time to activities and relationships that bring you joy and relaxation outside of work? Are you working too much overtime or even taking calls after hours? How often are you checking your email while away from work? Are the notifications on your phone on or off?

Activities for Relaxation and Rejuvenation

  1. Mindfulness and Meditation: Engage in mindfulness exercises or meditation techniques to create mental clarity, reduce stress, and increase your overall well-being. These practices can be done daily, even for just a few minutes, to yield significant benefits. Five minutes is better than zero minutes. A short walk outside is better than no walk outside. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

  2. Physical Exercise: Regular exercise not only boosts physical health but also releases endorphins that improve mood and reduce stress. Find an activity that you enjoy, whether it's yoga, jogging, dancing, or hiking, and incorporate it into your routine. You will never regret getting in better shape. Never. Physical health increases our life force and we become more useful versions of ourselves. The positive energy created then spreads to everyone in our circles and makes them feel better as well.

  3. Creative Expression: Engage in creative activities. Painting, writing, playing music, crafting, photography, dance, whatever it may be. Artistic outlets provide an opportunity for self-expression and can be freakishly therapeutic. You don’t even have to be good at it. Learn to play like you did when you were a kid.

  4. Nature Connection: Spending time in nature reduces stress and increases feelings of well-being. Whether it's a leisurely stroll in the park, a weekend hiking trip, or simply barefoot gardening in your own backyard. Connecting with nature can be a powerful form of self-care. It’s grounding.

Practices for Emotional Well-Being

  1. Establish Boundaries: Learn to set clear and healthy boundaries with clients, colleagues, AND supervisors. Knowing when and how to say 'no' is crucial for preserving your emotional energy. Do not sleep on this. I’ve written before that “No.” is a full sentence. It requires no qualification or explanation.

  2. Seek Supervision and Peer Support: Regular supervision sessions with a trusted supervisor or colleague provide somewhere to process challenging cases and receive guidance. Peer support groups or one-on-one therapy can be invaluable for sharing experiences and gaining coping strategies. Even in this day in age, some people will feel "less than" and avoid support systems. (Especially guys, not sure why we’re this way) Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you extend to your clients and friends. Recognize that you are not immune to the challenges of the profession and life in general and allow yourself to seek support when needed.

Routines for Balance

  1. Prioritize Sleep: Ensure you get enough restorative sleep each night. Establish a bedtime routine and create a comfortable sleep environment to support quality rest. Do your best to get a minimum of 7 hours quality sleep. Avoid screen time while in bed. Don’t sleep with your phone next to you and for the love of all things holy, get the television out of your bedroom.

  2. Plan Regular Breaks: Take short breaks throughout the day to recharge. Even a few minutes of deep breathing or stretching can make a significant difference in your energy levels and focus. Don’t just tell yourself “I’m going to take more breaks”. Put them on your calendar just as you would any other appointment. Don’t neglect them.


Prioritizing self-care is essential for your well-being. Your well-being is essential to provide effective support to your clients. By reflecting on emotional triggers, recognizing signs of stress, and implementing activities, practices, and routines, you will create a sustainable self-care program leading to relaxation, rejuvenation, and balance in your professional and personal life. Remember, taking care of yourself is not selfish—it's a necessary foundation for being the best support system you can be. It cannot be overstated.

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