Social work and being a caregiver in general can be exhaustive, demanding, and draining on our emotional tanks. The adage that you can't fill another's cup if yours is empty couldn't be more accurate. Thus, caring for yourself is imperative should we continue to strive to provide compassionate care and guidance to those in our care. Merriam-Webster defines burnout as exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, usually due to prolonged stress or frustration. Some of you may be aware that January is Mental Wellness Month. And since most of you reading this are either social workers, people working within the social field, or a primary caregiver, I want to encourage you if you're facing or nearing burnout and compassion fatigue. First, let's get a rundown of some signs/symptoms to identify whether you're in or nearing burnout or compassion fatigue:
Insomnia or have difficulties falling back asleep
Irritable or easily put in a negative mood
Unenthusiastic, unenergetic, and depressed
Distance self from others intentionally
Fearful thoughts run rampant in your mind
Body aches for no physical reasons or no known illness
Careless of others' feelings
Increased use or overuse of non-healthy vises (alcohol, drugs, etc.)
When we become intentional about self-care, we will reap the benefits of our efforts. I've developed a simple PDF to combat Energy Fatigue and help you get on the right track. I've also provided a sample of my personal energy givers, energy drainers, and action steps to inspire you to build your own. Feel free to download and print it out!
The War Against Energy Fatigue Fillable Form - Blank
Here is my personal entries on The War Against Energy Fatigue form.
If this isn't your thing, don't stress - that's not what we're here for, friend! I've got a few other tips up my sleeve to share with you. Here are a few more suggestions to help you manage stress and hopefully prevent burnout and compassion fatigue.
Limits - Well, that sounds like something other than fun. All jokes aside, don't be afraid of this; limits and boundaries can be your best friend. Identifying when you need to work and when to have downtime allows you to set healthy boundaries within your schedule, taking care of client needs and family commitments. You cannot give in to pressures that, with time, could be your breaking point. "What you allow is what will continue." - Unknown.
Food, water, and rest - They are not overrated. The rigorous schedule of any social worker or caregiver demands you reside at the top of your game. Ensuring you ingest healthy foods, take in body weight suggested amounts of water, and get enough sleep will decrease your burnout susceptibility.
Me time - If you're a creative personality, you may benefit from listening to music, building something, or painting. Sometimes, a slower pace is just the ticket. You may be the relaxing type who enjoys sitting on the porch bench reading a book with a cup of coffee or hot tea. You might need to binge-watch reruns of The Office and exercise your face-grinning muscles. Whatever this looks like for you, "Me time" - do it! You're amazing! You serve and take care of others all the time. You have earned this time to restore your mind, body, and soul.
Expel - This one is similar to setting boundaries but more about having your mental/emotional shields up. Much like sponge characteristics, social workers and caregivers get a lot thrown at them, and sometimes - or all of the time, it's hard not to let those things get on the inside. You've likely encountered, heard, or been exposed to painful and troubling information and behaviors. Trauma exposure can put you at a higher risk of compassion fatigue. You got into this role because you have compassion for others, and if not kept in check, it can become debilitating and overwhelming. Be swift in talking with a superior or safe advisor, counselor, or friend. Consider taking a short break or time off if necessary. Even a slight change in environment and scenery can re-energize you and bring you much-needed peace.
Physicality - It may seem contradictory, but numerous studies have concluded that exercise gives you more energy. Shocking - I know! When you partake in at least 20 minutes of brisk physical activity, you produce feel-good hormones that positively affect your brain. Research shows that it creates an anti-depressant effect. Find the time of day that works best for you, but engage in a walk/run before work or unwind at the end of the day with a friendly family competition of Just Dance! Your body and brain will thank you later.
Talk to someone - You'd be surprised at the number of people battling and facing the same challenges you are or those who have overcome those same obstacles. They could be a great resource to you. No, it's not always easy to admit that we're struggling or need help - but we've all been there. The fantastic thing about our organization is that we are a team, and sometimes it feels like family. Not every organization has that. If you're not connected to other caregivers or team members in a way that you're comfortable opening up, I encourage you to attend events that allow you to network and connect. Reach out to contacts you've made in the past that could support you or at least lead you in the right direction. This Restoring Hope team truly cares for everyone we work with and beyond. Time and time again, our Program Managers and Office personnel go the extra mile and prove they are available and willing to provide support around the clock, based on the high majority of feedback we receive. Crises don't wait for a convenient time to present themselves, which you'll soon discover - if you've not already arrived at this realization. Sometimes, we all need to vent, too. Find a safe person to talk with. Compassion isn't just for our clients; you are just as deserving of it, too.
Burnout and compassion fatigue are no joke; unfortunately, they are frequent occurrences in our field and service-related positions. Keep yourself from getting to the point that it's too late to seek help, and you've crashed. I hope that you will utilize some of the helpful tips listed above and/or The War Against Energy Fatigue PDF to combat those pesky things trying to suck the life out of you! You can't allow it, mainly because others are counting on you, and you're a person with meaning, purpose, and belonging. You have just as much value and should feel as such. We're here for you and want to help! Please also know that what you do is tremendously impactful. If no one has thanked you today, let me be the first to say - thank you from the depth of my heart. We at Restoring Hope are here to pour into you with our support, r3 Conferences, r3 SUMMITs, and ongoing training. Speaking of which, if you're a Restoring Hope caregiver or team member, there is still time to register for our upcoming r3 SUMMITs: Springfield on March 7th, West Plains on March 21st, and Sedalia on March 28th. Register here, or read more details on the flyer at this link. We want to see you there! You're drastically improving lives, and we couldn't be more proud to partner and work with people like you. You make the world a better place. Let us give back to you! Join us.