How Social Workers Can Maintain Mental and Physical Health

Often, those in the caring professions — doctors and nurses, teachers and social workers — are the ones who are worst about participating in self-care. In efforts to provide the best service to those who depend on them, social workers especially often neglect healthy behaviors like exercising, eating well, communicating openly with loved ones and participating in regular hygiene.

However, social workers who do not put their needs first will be unable to tend to their clients adequately for very long. Social workers are at extreme risk for emotional fatigue and burnout, which cripples their ability to provide necessary services and resources to needy populations.

Develop Goals

Though social workers do enjoy somewhat varied workloads — especially compared to some office workers who have the same tasks day-in and day-out — the work can begin to feel interminable and monotonous if there is nothing motivating social workers to push harder. That’s why social workers need to develop their own goals, which will give their work meaning.

Goals can be professional, such as pursuing a master’s in social work online while working to qualify for advanced, clinical social work positions. Alternatively, they can be personal, like running a marathon or buying a home. Ideally, goals are precise, using numbers or specific wording to guide social workers forward. Still, as long as there is some objective keeping social workers engaged, they are more likely to remain happy and healthy.

Schedule Exercise

The last thing any worker wants to do after a long day of grueling work is hit the gym. However, physical activity is closely tied to mental and emotional stability; by getting at least two and a half hours of vigorous exercise every week, social workers can almost guarantee their health.

To prevent shrugging off gym duties, social workers should write exercise into their calendars in indelible pen. The best exercise is the kind a person will do, which will vary from social worker to social worker. It might be worth trying out different exercise classes, like Zumba, spin, CrossFit, boxing and yoga, until one finds the type of exercise they enjoy.

Plan Meals

Social workers get busy juggling too many caseloads, and too many resort to eating fast food for multiple meals per day. Unhealthy food doesn’t just cause weight gain and other physical health issues; it can affect one’s emotional state, exacerbating mental disorders, which in turn impact productivity and client outcomes.

That’s why social workers should invest part of their weekend in meal prepping. Research into this trend has found that planning meals beforehand increases food variety and diet quality. Plus, it is an excellent way to control calories and macronutrients, which impact body fat. All it takes to begin prepping meals is a set of food containers and half a day on the weekends to shop and assemble meals.

Practice Openness

One of the primary threats facing social workers is emotional fatigue, which is also called burnout. This occurs when caring professionals invest too much emotional energy in their clients, resulting in overstimulation which leads to the development of apathy, depression and other serious disorders.

To combat emotional fatigue, social workers need to practice openness with those around them. In the office, social workers should feel comfortable approaching superiors and colleagues with concerns about workload and capacity. At home, social workers should share their emotional states with their loved ones, even if they are feeling negative or down. This openness will help distribute the emotional load of social work, so individual workers don’t feel so worn-out by their emotional investment.

Quit Unhealthy Habits

While social workers begin developing healthy habits like exercising and eating well, they should also strive to quit unhealthy habits. Some of these might include:

  • Smoking or vaping. Studies have long shown smoking cigarettes to have a severely negative effect on health, and though vaping uses ostensibly safer ingredients, any addiction to nicotine is bad for one’s mental state.
  • Drinking alcohol. The CDC says that women can drink one glass per day and men can drink two without serious health effects — but newer research is saying that alcohol has more of an impact on physical and mental health than previously thought. It is better to limit drinking to special events only.
  • Overspending. Retail therapy feels good in the moment, but research has found that spending money on experiences rather than things helps ensure longer-term satisfaction in life.

Social workers are some of the most important caring professionals in society today — but if they overlook their own strength, they aren’t contributing in the ways we need. By setting goals, investing time and energy into physical health and engaging in emotional wellness, social workers can stay active in their jobs and beneficial to their communities.

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