Work-related stress can be called an occupational hazard for social workers. Meeting the needs of clients while dealing with bureaucratic red tape can be daunting, especially on a daily basis. In a survey of more than 3,500 social workers conducted by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), 31 percent of the participants cited a lack of time to complete necessary job tasks as a major source of stress. Heavy workloads were identified as a major stressor by 25 percent and 16 percent said that working with difficult and challenging clients affected their stress level.
In order to remain effective on the job and avoid career burnout, social workers need to find healthy ways to unwind and de-stress. In recognition of Stress Awareness Month, which has been held every April since 1992, we’re providing some tips and stress management techniques to help social workers like you decompress.
Top 3 Stress Management Tips
Identifying Your Stressors
Stress management begins with identifying the sources of your stress and recognizing the role you play in creating or maintaining your stress level. Perhaps you’re always running late because you’re not managing your time well, or you procrastinate when it comes to unpleasant tasks. Maybe you find it hard to say “no” and end up feeling overworked and underappreciated. Once you accept responsibility for your own stress-inducing behavior, you can begin to feel more in control.
Reduce the Stress We Can Control
Of course, some stressors are beyond your control, including many of the demands that are inherent to the practice of social work. There are no quick fixes for clients with complicated emotional issues and for inequalities in social justice, health care and education. This is even more reason to reduce the stress you can control. Recognize your limits and learn when to say no. Instead of putting off tasks you don’t like, get them out of the way as soon as possible and move on to something more satisfying or enjoyable.
Develop Effective Strategies
It may not be possible to avoid people and situations that cause stress. Instead, develop effective strategies for different kinds of clients, such as using empathy to help calm down a confrontational client. Most importantly, keep clients’ issues from seeping into your personal life by maintaining a healthy separation between your work and the rest of your life.
Stress Management Techniques: Find Healthy Coping Strategies
According to the NASW, ignoring workplace stress can lead to a host of problems, including burnout, impaired performance, poor mental health and health issues. Healthy coping strategies can help alleviate stress and establish a feeling of competency and mastery at work.
Evaluate the ways you currently cope with stress and decide if they’re healthy or unhealthy. Overeating, drinking too much, lashing out at friends and family or zoning out in front of the computer or television may temporarily relieve stress but will bring you more problems in the long run. A positive attitude is one of the strongest weapons against stress, but unhealthy habits rarely lead to positive thinking. By adopting one or more of these healthy coping strategies you’ll feel nurtured, more relaxed and ready to take on the challenges that previously stressed you out.
- The thought of exercising after work may seem overwhelming, but exercise is one of the most effective stress relief strategies. Besides improving your fitness level and stamina, exercise has the added benefit of releasing feel-good endorphins. If vigorous exercise is not your thing, enroll in a relaxing yoga class or go for a walk.
Spend time with pets
- The unconditional devotion of animals can help put a bad day in perspective. People who have stressful jobs often find that spending time relaxing with a pets is a great way to unwind.
Cook a healthy meal
- Instead of opting for fast food or something frozen, take a little extra time to prepare a simple meal using fresh ingredients. Enjoy the cooking process and relish the sight and taste of your meal.
Explore your creativity
- Art therapy is frequently used in hospitals and clinics to promote emotional and mental well-being. Purchase some inexpensive art or craft supplies and enjoy a little creative self-expression.
Get a good night’s sleep
- Never underestimate the power of sleep. You’ll be better prepared for the next day if you’re thoroughly rested. Even if work is piled up at home, relax in a hot bath or shower and then hit the sheets early.
Don’t sweat the small stuff
- You can avoid some stress by controlling your focus. Instead of trying to do everything perfectly, take the long view and save your energy for the things that really matter. Recognize that the pressures of your job can be enormous and learn to identify what you can and can’t control. When faced with insurmountable challenges, look for ways to get around them instead of trying to blast your way through.
Stress is a normal part of life and can be a good thing when it gives us energy to help us overcome obstacles. When it becomes a constant state of mind, however, it can rob us of the ability to think clearly and enjoy life. Developing coping strategies to manage the stress of social work will help you preserve your health, relationships and quality of life. It will also help you meet the needs of your clients to the best of your ability.