Good experience Health

17 Tips for Avoiding Burnout as a Social Worker

Written by Jimmy Rustling

As a social worker, you are likely to experience stress, whether that’s from long work hours, difficult patients, or dealing with upsetting situations. While this can usually be managed, you need to make sure this doesn’t turn into burnout, which usually happens when your work-life balance is off, and you have a lack of support at work. To avoid this, here are seventeen tips.

  1. Advance Your Studies Online

If you are an ambitious social worker, you’ve probably considered pursuing your master’s degree or even your Ph.D. While this will help you push forward in your career, there is also the risk of overworking yourself. One thing that can help is studying online. By choosing to pursue online part time MSW programs, you cut down the number of hours spent traveling to and from class, giving you more time to relax in between study sessions and shifts.

Studying online isn’t just beneficial for your well-being; there are other pros to taking this non-traditional route, including:

More Frequent Communications with Your Professor 

You might think an online class reduces the communication between you and your professor, but it can improve it. This is because your professors in part time MSW programs will have more hours open to chatting via email or video call. It’s much easier to set up a virtual meeting, after all!

Study Wherever You Like 

Everyone has a study preference – some like to study in a quiet room, whereas others like to take their study notes outdoors and listen to music while they read. As an online student, you have more control over your working environment – not just a classroom.

More Flexibility 

One of the biggest reasons that students choose online degrees like part time MSW programs is that they need the flexibility. As a social worker, this benefits you greatly, as you can fit your studies around your current role.

  1. Form Good Relationships with Your Co-Workers

Maintaining positive relationships with your fellow social workers is greatly beneficial for combatting your stress levels. Not only will these friendships help you get through the tough days, but you’ll also have people there to support you and notice when you’re not feeling as great as usual. When you’ve spent the entire day stressing over a case, it helps to have some friendly faces to confide in and vent to.

  1. Manage Your Workload

You might think that you can take on everything without becoming overwhelmed, but the truth is, everyone has a limit. No matter how much you want to help everyone at once, by trying to be a superhero, you might end up helping nobody. Instead, give your full efforts to individual cases and manage your workload by not taking on too much. Doing so won’t just help your stress levels – it’ll also ensure your patients receive the attention they need.

  1. Take Breaks When Needed

Not taking breaks isn’t something to be proud of. Even if you think you can push through the day, it’s important to take those precious minutes to yourself to decompress and collect your thoughts. You could read a book, go for a walk, have a snack, or simply chat with your co-workers for a few minutes – as long as what you’re doing isn’t work-related!

  1. See Your Friends After Work

Burnout doesn’t just happen because of physical exhaustion – sometimes, it can come about because you keep thinking about your job long after you’ve left. There is no denying that social work is intense, and sometimes you’ll have to deal with situations that can’t help but go home with you, but you must do your best to avoid this. One way to combat it is to see your friends after work.

After a tough day working on cases, your friends will help you relax, have fun, and leave work behind. Plus, the more you fit socializing in throughout the week, the more time you have to simply relax on your days off.

  1. Stick to a Schedule

Schedules are crucial for people to avoid burnout. It’s especially important if you’re working while doing online MSW programs. Without a schedule, you could end up dedicating way too much of your time to your job when you should be spending time at home. So, at the beginning of each week, sketch out a schedule you can stick to. That way, you’ll be in more control of how much time you get to relax. If you’re feeling stressed, don’t skimp on you-time!

  1. Separate Your Home and Work Life

This one is tricky. For social workers, separating home and work life can seem like an impossible task, especially when some of the cases make you feel a lot of emotions. You must do so, though; otherwise, you run the risk of mental burnout. Remember – you are already don’t everything you can, and worrying about your case scenarios once you’ve left work won’t influence the outcome. Your well-being is important, too, so let your thoughts revolve around your home, friends, family – anything but work – at the end of your shift.

  1. Ask Questions

All too often, social workers find themselves worrying about messing up a case. No matter how experienced you are, it’s OK to admit you don’t know something and to ask questions. Even if you’re asking the recent graduate! Everybody knows something that no one else does, so ask for advice when necessary, and be generous with yours whenever one of your co-workers needs it.

If you ever worry that you need additional education, you could always fit part time MSW programs around your current schedule. That way, you gain extra qualifications without having to leave your job.

  1. Choose a Part-Time Masters

Many social workers decide to advance their careers while working. While this is a sensible route, especially if you want to go into a more specialized area of social work, it can take a lot out of you. To combat this, browse part time MSW programs to fit around your schedule. It means you won’t have to give up too much of your time for education, but you still get to advance your career and massively improve your resume.

  1. Fit Exercise into Your Routine

After a long day at work, the last thing many people want to do is exercise. While it might not seem like a good idea at the time, it can greatly benefit your overall well-being and help you fight off burnout. This is because you will increase your physical stamina, which will help you get through the days when you’re constantly on your feet. Plus, exercise increases positivity, so you’ll be actively releasing the stress from your body. If you’re an exercise newbie, you don’t have to push yourself too hard – some simple beginner’s workouts will suffice.

  1. Create a Peaceful Home Environment

You won’t always be able to control how chaotic work is, and sometimes, that’s just part of being a social worker. Luckily, you do have control over your home environment, especially if you live alone or only with a couple of people. To create a home that you look forward to entering, focus on positive décor, lots of natural lighting, and plenty of comfortable places to relax.

If you have a family – especially a young one – it might be a little more challenging to create a peaceful atmosphere. It’s doable, though, as long as you choose a spot for yourself that is yours and yours only. For example, you might have a reading armchair by a bookcase that’s just for you. Also, if you need to study for part time MSW programs or any other advanced education, you should make sure you have a study spot where you’re not interrupted.

  1. Reach Out if You Need Help

You might be a professional who helps individuals, families, and communities for a living, but that doesn’t mean you can’t reach out for help if you also need it. The first step to feeling better is admitting you have a problem, and the next step is doing something about it. If you feel yourself reaching burnout, consider looking into counseling, or at the very least speak to your supervisor for a more reasonable workload, even if it’s just for a little while.

  1. Don’t Rush Your Career Advancement

Once you graduate with your social work bachelor’s and find your first social working role, you might be eager to take on lots of training and advance your career as soon as possible. This might end up a mistake, though, as rushing could lead to burnout. To ensure you stay sane while developing as a social worker, keep a more sensible pace with your advancements. For example, look at part time MSW programs rather than full-time ones, and consider putting your psychology doctorate back a few years while you gain more experience in the social work field.

  1. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is incredibly important. Without enough of it, you’ll end up tired, unable to concentrate, and irritable – all things that’ll quickly lead to burnout if you’re not careful. Unfortunately, not everyone has the luxury of falling asleep as soon as their head hits the pillow. If you are one of those people, here are a few solutions you could try:

Sleep in a Cool Room 

Not only does a warm room lead to excessive sweating and sticky sheets, but it also prevents you from dropping off. A cool room is ideal for sleeping (as long as you’re not shivering!).

Avoid Caffeine After Midday 

If you plan to go to sleep at 10pm, try to avoid caffeine after midday. That can be difficult for some, especially if you have to study for part time MSW programs in the evening, but caffeine tends to stay in your system for around six hours, and you don’t want it fueling your body once it’s time for bed!

Try Essential Oils 

Some essential oils, like lavender and chamomile, have relaxing properties to help you get to sleep. So, before bed, sprinkle a few drops over your pillow. Or, even better – put some in a warm, relaxing bath!

Tire Yourself Out 

As a social worker, you’re likely already tired out at the end of the day. If you’ve spent a lot of time sat down working, though, then your body might not be tired enough to drop off quickly, so consider going for a walk or fitting in more exercise.

  1. Relax on Your Days Off

Your days off should be spent doing activities you love, but you also need to make time for pure relaxation. If you have two days off, for example, spend one of them seeing your loved ones, catching up on chores, or studying for part time MSW programs, and then spend the second one catching up on films and doing some self-care. It’s all about balance!

  1. Eat a Healthy Diet

What you put into your body is important, especially when you work such an intense job. You want to give your body the nourishment it needs to get through the day, which means eating plenty of protein and vitamins. If you’re unsure what your ideal diet looks like, there’s plenty of great advice online to dive into.

  1. Stay Passionate About Your Work

Passion is what fuels great work. By investing your energy into making the world a better place, you have a lot to be passionate about. When the days grow longer, and the workload gets large, remember why you’re a social worker in the first place, and you’ll have an easier time putting your best foot forward without too much stress.

How to Tell You Have Reached Burnout?

It’s just as important to know the symptoms of burnout as it is to take steps toward avoiding it. Some signs you might have reached burnout include:

  • You’re overly exhausted
  • Little things irritate you
  • You feel anxious 
  • You dread going to work
  • You struggle to focus

If you are showing any of these signs, it’s crucial to understand where it’s coming from so that you can find ways to combat it. Remember – this isn’t what work should be like; there is help out there if you feel overwhelmed.

By knowing the signs of burnout and following these tips for avoiding it, your career as a social worker can be one filled with enjoyment, fulfillment, and satisfaction.

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About the author

Jimmy Rustling

Born at an early age, Jimmy Rustling has found solace and comfort knowing that his humble actions have made this multiverse a better place for every man, woman and child ever known to exist. Dr. Jimmy Rustling has won many awards for excellence in writing including fourteen Peabody awards and a handful of Pulitzer Prizes. When Jimmies are not being Rustled the kind Dr. enjoys being an amazing husband to his beautiful, soulmate; Anastasia, a Russian mail order bride of almost 2 months. Dr. Rustling also spends 12-15 hours each day teaching their adopted 8-year-old Syrian refugee daughter how to read and write.