Making time for yourself: 10 tips to combat the stress of social work

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Social work is one of the most rewarding careers you can go into. Whether you are dealing with children and young people, drugs intervention programmes or end of life care, no two days will be the same and you will gain enormous personal satisfaction from having a positive impact on people’s lives.

As with any career, however, there may be times when your case loads seem unmanageable, your working day is getting longer and the stresses of trying to do the best job you can take their toll. Stress at work is now the leading cause of sickness amongst UK employees and up to one in five of us will be affected at some point during our working lives. It’s important to keep fatigue and stress at a minimum but this can be easier said than done when you are doing busy management or social work assistant jobs, for example. Here are our 10 tips to combat the stress of social work:

1. Time management

Always feeling like you are just keeping your head above the water with regards to your job is a major cause of anxiety and stress and as a social worker, your office time will be limited. Prioritise your task list and start the day with the most important jobs and those that you are least looking forward to. You will find that those unimportant trivial jobs often disappear, leaving you free to use your time more efficiently.

2. Healthy eating

The mid-afternoon slump really exists, with the most common time for workers to feel sluggish and dozy being 2.16 pm. To minimise the effects of the slump, choose a healthy lunch full of protein, whole grains and fruits, which will release energy slowly, helping to keep your blood sugar from dipping. A chicken salad sandwich on rye bread and an apple or yoghurt would be a great energy-packed lunch which will keep you on top of your game all afternoon. If you do feel sluggish in the afternoon, reach for a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts rather than a chocolate bar – these will again keep your blood sugar from rising and falling too sharply.

3. Know your limits

It’s important that you don’t take on too much, especially in your first few years when you are still doing so much learning. Don’t ever feel guilty for saying “no” to an extra project if you already have enough to do. It’s far better that you complete your case load effectively rather than spread yourself too thinly.

4. Avoid conflicts

Office gossip and conflict happens in every workplace but avoiding it altogether is the best course of action if you want to reduce stress. Try to set a good example and rise above petty disputes.

5. Fresh air

Getting out of the office and getting some fresh air can work wonders for your stress levels. If you have visits to attend, try to walk all the way if you can or park your car five minutes further out and take a brisk walk. You may also get some vitamin D if the sun is shining!

6. Recharge your batteries

Social work assistant jobs, among others, are characterised by long, busy days and it can be tempting to eat lunch at your desk or not have a break. It’s vital, however, that you take time out to recharge your batteries through the day. Even a 10 minute walk at lunchtime, reading a magazine in the staff room or drinking a cup of tea can reduce your accumulation of stress. Ensure you are away from your desk for at least half an hour through the day.

7. Accept what you cannot change

Social work can be frustrating at times, when there are things you would like to be able to change but can’t. It’s important to realise you can’t help everybody by changing the way things are. Accepting these frustrations is all part of social work!

8. Avoid too much tea and coffee

It’s tempting to use tea and coffee as a stimulant through the day when we are lacking in energy but too much caffeine really doesn’t help your management of stress and can cause headaches and low mood. Limit your consumption to one or two cups per day and consider switching to green or herbal tea instead.

9. Get to sleep on time

Ensuring you are well-rested is very important so that you can be at your best the next day. Set yourself a proper bedtime routine that includes limiting screen time before bed (this inhibits the sleep hormone melatonin), avoiding tea or coffee in the two hours before bed and trying to leave your stresses at the bedroom door. Remember that you can’t make yourself sleep, you can only enable it to happen so try to be as relaxed as possible! There are some great tips here [http://www.sleepcouncil.org.uk/how-to-sleep/sleep-tips/].

10. Make time for yourself

Social work can be an exhausting profession, taking up all of your time and energy. It is really important, however, that you make time for you, especially at the weekends. Go out, get some exercise and enjoy relaxing with friends. Try not to take too much work home and if you do, put a time limit on it so that you at least have a full day to yourself. Your body and mind will thank you!

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