The Delicate Balance of Emotional Stress in the Life of a Social Worker
The University of Bedfordshire conducted a three year research program, comprised of over 300 social work trainees. Of these people, it was found that the more empathetic the social worker, the higher the level of stress, anxiety and depression than that of their less-empathetic colleagues. So how does a social worker deal with the emotional stress of life on the job? Here are five ideas:
According to the National Association of Social Workers, the leading stress reliever among social workers of both genders and all ethnicities is exercise. Exercise releases pleasure inducing chemicals within the brain, and the mere act of exercising can refocus the mind after a difficult day at work. While any physical movement is beneficial, experts recommend partaking in exercise that gets the heart pumping and the body sweating. Brisk walking, jogging, swimming and interval training are all good choices.
Meditation is the act of sitting quietly and calming the mind. Unfortunately, many people give up meditation after their first try, finding it too difficult to quiet the mind. If you are experiencing the emotional side effects of social work, quieting your mind may be just what you need. Don’t give up if you don’t “get” meditation at first; it’s something that takes practice. Try to meditate for at least five minutes each day for two or three weeks. Gradually increase the time as you become more comfortable with the practice.
The third most popular coping mechanism among social workers is therapy. Many people are surprised to hear that therapists need therapy, but it is a well-known practice in the profession. Finding someone that you can speak with on a regular basis can help ease your levels of stress. There is no shame in seeking help; something every social worker should understand.
Yoga is not necessarily beneficial for those who need to lose weight, but it is extremely beneficial for those seeking relaxation. Many people avoid yoga thinking that they don’t have the balance needed to perform the exercise. Like meditation, yoga takes practice. The more you participate, the better you will get. With regular practice, you will realize a lessening of your anxiety and, as a side benefit, a beautiful definition in your muscles.
For some social workers, the best way to leave the emotional toll of the work day behind is to participate in some sort of hobby. For some people, reading a few chapters in a new book is incredibly relaxing. For others, digging in the garden and creating something beautiful is a way to relieve stress. If you’re a social worker on the edge of burnout, finding a new hobby can be a way to give your mind, and your emotions, the break that they need.
Most social workers burnout after only eight years on the front lines. Whether it’s the emotional toll of helping others or a negative work environment, it’s not unusual for social workers to leave the profession due to emotional stress. Before you throw your degree to the wind, look for ways to calm your mind and relax your spirit; you just may find something that works for you.
Robert Neff has written numerous articles on the management of stress. Being a social worker not only can be a stressful job but it can be very rewarding. If a career in social work interests you several schools offer an online degree in social work.