The Importance of Self-care for Social Care Staff
Social care staff spend their working lives helping other people. It can be a very rewarding career. However, it can also be emotionally draining. While burnout can happen in almost any industry, those who work in social care are at an increased risk, due to the high stress associated with their jobs.
Empathy is required constantly, and, depending on your organisation, you may not be able to access the funding required to help everyone in need. This can quickly lead to frustration and physical and/or emotional exhaustion.
One of the best ways to prevent exhaustion from happening is to practise proper self-care. Social care staff often advocate self-care when speaking with clients, but do not always take the time to look after themselves. For people engaged in this field, looking after others often comes as second nature. It is much harder for them to focus on themselves.
What is Self-care?
Put simply, self-care is simply taking proper care of your whole self: mind, body and soul. Generally speaking, any task that ensures your future wellbeing is self-care. This means that self-care includes everything from practising basic life skills, such as bathing and eating regularly and keeping your house clean, to doing things that you find emotionally fulfilling, such as taking a walk, spending time with friends and watching a favourite film.
Which self-care activities you personally find to be the most helpful may vary, depending on your situation and personality. However, there are a few self-care tasks that can help virtually everyone, including those employed in the social care field. They include:
Taking a break
It is incredibly important to take time to yourself, especially if your working life or your social life has been busy. The length of your break should depend on your stress levels. If you have had a rough day at work, a long bath and binge-watching your favourite television show may be enough. In other cases, you may need to take an entire day to yourself. Do not feel guilty about needing this time. Remember, not taking it now means that you are at an increased risk of burning out, which may require even more time off at a later date, in order to deal with it.
Break down any major obligations or tasks into smaller, manageable pieces. This can help you feel less overwhelmed at work. When you feel less stressed, you are better able to care for your clients.
Telling yourself you can quit tomorrow
Remind yourself that you can always quit tomorrow. Many social workers have said that this simple reminder helps them get through the rough parts of each day. Everyone has to deal with a situation where you cannot help, or you feel completely frustrated with the system. Instead of deciding to quit right there and then, work out the rest of your day, and focus on helping as many clients as possible. This small task of focusing on the positives, even in a difficult situation, is a great self-care technique.
Refuse extra commitments
Say ‘no’ if you do not have the time to take on new projects. When you are asked, spend a few minutes to think about what free time you have available. If you cannot get your work done as it is, it is not a good time to take on additional responsibilities. Be kind to your future self, and refuse anything that you can’t handle.
Develop a support system
It is important to have people in your life whom you can speak to about the things that matter to you. These people can often offer you insight from a perspective that you may not have considered before. While you may not be able to go into details about your job, due to confidentiality issues, you can still talk about your emotions and how certain aspects of your career make you feel.
Mindfulness is the act of living in the moment, not worrying about the future or fretting about the past. There are loads of ways in which you can practise mindfulness. Some people mediate, others take up yoga, while others practise mindful cooking. Get in touch with the NHS in your area to find out more about any classes or courses you can take. If you do not want to learn this particular skill in person, you can also find guided meditations on YouTube.
If you are not in the habit of taking care of yourself, it can be hard to suddenly start doing so. Some people get frustrated, thinking that self-care should come easily. Instead of getting frustrated with yourself for failing to practise self-care, consider scheduling it.
This is a common tactic used in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other types of behavioural therapy. You don’t have to schedule your life to the exact minute, but consider getting a day planner with lots of space and blocking out some time each day for self-care.
You can then use this time to mindfully take a shower and practise a morning meditation or to take some time to read a book that you’ve been looking forward to diving into.
Self-care at Work
The practice of self-care does not end at home. There are ways in which you can continue caring for yourself, while you are at work. If you are in a position of authority at work, you should focus on creating a working environment where flexible scheduling and opportunities for growth and advancement are provided.
Regardless of your position, you should spend time each day looking for ways to help maintain your sense of hope and optimism during tough times. While this does involve reflecting on past successes, it also involves taking time off when you need it, and speaking with colleagues or supervisors when you feel like things are getting too much.
Practising self-care is incredibly important for your sense of well-being. Those who do not take the time to look after their own needs often find themselves ill-equipped to help others. The common saying, ‘You can’t pour from an empty cup,’ is very true, especially in the social care field. Take the time to fill up your cup, so to speak, by looking after yourself, both mentally and physically, on a daily basis.