Social Work is a rewarding profession, but it is also very demanding. By nature, however, it is arduous and emotionally challenging. This can create a lot of stress which could lead to burn out. Social Workers help those in need on a day-to-day basis – a tall task for anyone to tackle without even mentioning the demands placed on a social worker from clients, families, supervisors, and agencies. It is important to recognize the differences between stress and burnout and to recognize the signs of each so that you can get the help you need.
Stress occurs when a person feels like they are thrown too much at one time, whether that be emotional stress, professional stress, or physical stress. A person who experiences stress often describes it as not being able to take much more or not being able to handle anything else. Generally, once a person gets that stressful situation under control, s/he starts to feel better.
Burnout, on the other hand, is not feeling too much and more about feeling nothing. A person experiencing burn out often describe it as feeling empty and not caring at all. A person who is burned out doesn’t believe the situation will ever get better which leaves them feeling hopeless and helpless. A person who is burned out generally feels overworked and underappreciated. Physically this person may feel exhausted and drained. They may experience a change in appetite or sleep and may experience frequent pain like headaches and body aches. All of this can lead a person to shut down.
Like most things in life, prevention is the key. Getting a good night’s rest is a great start in addition to eating balanced meals. Try meditating in the evenings and again in the morning to clear your mind for positive thoughts and energy. Exercise is also really important and it can be difficult to find the motivation to exercise for when you ae already feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Start a walking group with friends to help motivate you. Talking with your friends can be therapeutic, but do not hesitate to find a support group or therapist to assist you. There are also a bunch of great self-help books that can help.
Taking care of yourself is a pre-requisite to taking care of others.