We often think of self-care as something we do outside of the workplace. Since self-care encompasses our different dimensions of needs (Check out SUNY Buffalo’s great social work resource on this): physical, psychological, emotional, relational, and spiritual/existential, it makes sense that many of the only places we can meet those needs are outside of school or the workplace.
For example, you can’t catch a movie with a friend during the work day, meditate on a mat in the middle of the hallway, or install a treadmill in your office to meet those needs during the day (at least not without significant concerns from colleagues or a memo from building operations).
However, beyond the professional-level aspects we can do to enhance a field placement or first-agency experience, a truly holistic foundation for self-care should permeate both our life outside of work and inside of work. This is because, one, we spend most of our time during the week with our colleagues, and two, because it is during this time, the time when we are with clients, when we most need to be in our most present, engaged, and creative selves.
From the simple to the more involved, here are five great ways to start creating that balance:
1. Create an emotionally balanced schedule.
If you’re in school, scheduling your fieldwork and classes on different days can make a major difference. On the other hand, maybe you can enjoy mixing things up by going to field in the morning, taking a fun elective as a night class, and leaving that long research lab for another day.
If you’re at work, notice the times during the week where you feel the most productive or creative. Take note of the time you feel you need that extra cup of coffee. Can you have more morning appointments or less afternoon ones? Vice versa? Is setting aside time on Fridays at 4 pm a good time to wind-down doing reminder calls and paperwork?
2. Take your lunch.
Seriously, don’t starve yourself. Maybe I’m biased because I love food (as my increasing pant size purchases at Uniqlo seem to note), but it’s ironic that being in positions where we collaborate with our clients to get their most basic needs met, we can be tempted to think we’re immune to those basic needs as well! Poor nutrition can have an effect on our mood, while good nutrition strengthens us to be our most energetic and creative selves. So put a burger in that (or veggie burger, if you’re so inclined).
If you can leave your building during your break, or don’t have classes back to back, enjoy the weather before the Polar Vortex Yeti returns (and if you live in SoCal, we strongly dislike you right now). It’s also a good mood enhancer: if you’re having an especially stressful day, you’re creating a diffusion stimuli to counteract your excitability and stress response. Whether it’s walking around the block, running downstairs to chit chat with a co-worker during lunch, or stopping by to browse the local Radio Shack to see if the iPhone 6 really bends, try to do something different during your day.
4. Read for fun.
While you probably chose social work because you’re passionate about it, adding fun reading outside of your academic reading can also be a good way to create a counter-stimuli, which will make you more able to go back to the academic information with a fresh mind. Also, it will make you a more well-rounded person (because who doesn’t quote Shakespeare and Jane Austen in session?).
5. Ask for help.
Just like our clients seek out professional and social support, sometimes we need to ask for help too. Whether it’s asking a supervisor to hold off on assigning more cases, asking for help regarding referring a work task we’re not familiar with, or asking a professor for academic guidance, help-seeking behaviors ultimately enrich our learning instead of “exposing” our lack of knowledge. It’s when we don’t speak up about our blind spots that we run into trouble growing.