Self Care for Youth Workers
Remember: self care is a personal thing. What works for others won’t work for you! It’s important to have a plan that you revise regularly. Ideally, share your plan with your supervisor or team leader, or a colleague, and encourage them to regularly check in with you and make sure you are carrying out your plan.
What is self care?
- Self care helps us function effectively and meet the challenges we face – in our day to day life, and in our work. Mental health, physical health, emotional wellbeing all influence how we are feeling, and what strategies we need to ensure we are looking after ourselves.
- Often we are drawn to this sort of work because we care, and we believe we have the capacity to help others. We give part of ourselves to our work – it can’t be done by robots. Therefore, part of our job is also to make sure we are looking after ourselves so we can keep looking after others.
- In the same way that we map out a plan for our clients to address their needs, we need to map out a plan to address our needs. It isn’t something we should do in an emergency, it’s something we need to prepare and work on. A self care plan is not a life jacket to save you when things get bad – think about it more as taking swimming lessons and practicing regularly to build up your capacity to keep swimming when the seas get rough!
- Self care isn’t about taking on one more responsibility. It’s about knowing when we need to let go – of actions and attitudes that impact negatively on us. By doing this we make space for the positive ones.
Why is self care important?
- Youth work is altruistic. We have to make sure we also look out for ourselves so we can provide the best possible support to others.
- We constantly have to prioritise and prioritise, and our job is never done. Even when we finish working with a client, we know that their life may continue to be difficult. It’s not like building a house where you can walk away from something perfect. This can lead to feelings of guilt, particularly if we wish we could do more but haven’t been able to
- If we don’t look after ourselves, we can do more damage to clients. Walking into the room (not literally at the moment) burned out, frustrated, and with low tolerance or patience is not what our clients need from us. In order to give our best, we need to be our best.
- Youth work isn’t just theory, it’s practice. We have to keep learning new skills, gaining knowledge. Taking time to reflect and check in is part of that practice.
- Youth Work is a profession – in order to keep doing it and not burn out, we have to look after ourselves.
- It isn’t just important for us. It’s important for our loved ones, our clients, and our organisations.
It looks different for everyone, but involves a number of areas to consider:
- Physical health – Healthy Eating, Physical fitness, Sleeping, Relax, be creative,
- Psychological – see a MH professional or counsellor, learn new skills, decrease stress, get outside, utilise time management skills
- Emotional – spend time with people who add to your bucket, be kind to yourself, let go of guilt, laugh
- Spiritual – Spend time in nature, be inspired, practice gratitude, meditate (poetry, quotes), contribute to a cause
- Professional – Supervision, Reflective Practice, Boundaries (time limits), comfortable work space,
Have a look at the resource: Lived Experience Network Guide to Self Care – assessment tool.
Using this tool as a foundation, develop your own self care plan. You can use the activities listed on the guide, and add your own.
Try to include one or two activities you can do in a few minutes for each category, so you can do these throughout the day. You can use this template as a guide:
Once you have developed your plan, share it with someone who can encourage you to follow the plan.
Digital Self Care strategies
- Take time to switch off. Literally. Have time in your life when you don’t have your phone on you.
- For work phones, this should be any time outside of hours. For personal phones, take time to go without it every now and then. Eg during meditation, when you go for a walk, etc
- Set boundaries. For now maybe allocate 4 hours a day when a manager or clients can reach you, and do your other work hours at your convenience. This will mean you can be more flexible around the times you have to be available to support others in your household, or take care of things during the day when it is warmer and light outside (eg exercise, taking the dog for a walk, going grocery shopping).
- Use online time to connect with things that you enjoy – don’t just use your computer for work. This will help you from ending up dreading sitting down at your desk or computer.
- Move, and take breaks. Make sure you don’t spend hours at a time staring at your screen. Try and take phone calls away from your computer if you don’t need to be on it – sit in a different space, or walk around the block while you talk.
- Take breaks between client calls / chats. Remember you usually have driving time to think/process between clients. You get up for cups of tea, chats with colleagues, tidying up the office kitchen or your desk. Make sure you keep those same habits.
- Make an opportunity to do an online safety check. Search for yourself online, and check the privacy settings on your social media regularly so you know what others are able to find out about you online.
Covid-19 Impact: Why don’t all of our usual strategies work at the moment?
The world has changed considerably in the last few months, including the ways we work. Following are some ideas to reflect on, which may help us understand why our usual self care strategies are not as effective as they have been in the past. Understanding this can help us identify what new or revised strategies could help.
- We aren’t getting the same feedback – from our clients, and our colleagues.
- We often talk about the importance of celebrating the little wins. At the moment, we aren’t seeing those wins. We don’t have the same opportunities to celebrate with our clients and each other.
- We grow in circumstances where we feel valued and validated. At the moment it’s hard to see that. We don’t see the impact our work is having in the same way we usually do, and we aren’t able to work in the same way.
- For people who are used to working in front of a computer all day, this is not so different (in terms of the feedback we get from stakeholders, managers and clients. However, when you are used to constantly with people, you are now working in a very different scenario. Try and take time to reflect on the value in the work you are doing, and grow in these circumstances. It’s ok if that growth is eventual. It’s ok to feel like you are only just coping – coping is a short term strategy. Just make sure you put strategies in place to move beyond ‘just coping’ so you can keep going. Your usual strategies may not be working, and it’s ok to acknowledge that.
- We are currently having a parallel experience with our clients – this isn’t ‘normal’ and adds complexity to our work and lives. Many of us have experienced difficulties and challenges in our lives in the past, and have overcome them – that is a motivating factor for many people to enter this area of work. However, with social isolation, and the stress that we are all experiencing as our world looks very different, we are sharing one experience as the clients we are supporting. While other areas of our lives may look different to theirs, we have this common thing that connects us, and we are working how how to navigate the difficulties this brings in our own lives, while also supporting them to navigate it in theirs.
In this way, we are carrying the same weight as our clients. Often it is our role to take a weight off their shoulders – emotionally – but we don’t necessarily have the same capacity to do that at the moment.
- We need to seek inspiration from different places at the moment. The things that motivate, inspire, and recharge us may not be available to us. We all have to find what works for us individually.
For example – when I travel, I’m in my happy place. Exploring and understanding the world is my happy place, my inspiration, a motivating factor. Travel groups I am a part of online kept sharing images for ‘inspiration’. But for me, seeing travel images have not helped, they make me feel worse. So instead of looking up places I can’t go, I’m focusing on exploring my backyard (literally and figuratively) – doing gardening every day, and going on long hikes around Canberra on the weekend. I’m also taking time to share some of my previous travel stories and experiences with others, as sharing those stories inspires and encourages me.
- We aren’t getting the same compassion and care from others that we normally do. Chatting to a friend on zoom isn’t the same as a colleague or friend making you a cup of tea, having a chat, or giving you a hug when you are having a tough time. Since we can’t do those things in person, try sending someone a card or flowers, or drop off some baking to someone’s doorstep. Schedule a coffee video chat with a colleague who you would normally chat to over your cuppa in the morning. Think about how you can replicate those little breaks and moments where you can give & receive care and compassion to others which normally come naturally and without thought.
Given the different circumstances, try doing some different things.
- Actively pursue incidental exercise & spend time outside, ideally in greenspace. This can help reduce your cortisol levels. Between clients calls or video chats, take a walk around the block. Usually you drive from one client meeting to another, or walk between rooms. This time allows you to process the conversation you have just had, strategise, and get ready for the next meeting. Make sure you still take time to do this.
- Change eye focus (not staring at a screen all day). When you are on a long video chat, try to look out a window or around the room regularly, so you aren’t staring at something less than 1m from your face the whole time.
- More than ever, give yourself permission to say no. If things are feeling overwhelming, speak up. Saying no now means you can say yes another time.
- Let go of guilt. Know what you can and cannot control. Don’t feel guilty for what you cannot control.
- Supervision is more important than ever. If you don’t get it, now is the time to ask for it. If it isn’t working for you, find something that does.
- Allocate time for the incidental things that would usually happen during a work day – exercise as you walk between meetings; talks with colleagues about work situations; tidying up your workspace or the office kitchen, reading news stories, journal articles, and emails; learning new things from your colleagues as you discuss podcasts, books, chats you have had with friends. All of these things generally contribute to your connectedness with your colleagues, and what you are able to share with your clients. Make sure you allocate time during your day to continue doing these things in a different format.
ACTIVITY: Develop a stress- reducing ideas list.
Ask others what are one or two small things they do to relieve some stress. You could discuss in a team meeting, or post a message on facebook and ask friends to share ideas. Categorise the ideas into things you can do in 2 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, and a couple of hours.
Take time to do a few things on your list throughout the day (for example, morning and afternoon break, lunch time, over the weekend.
See the following for some ideas if you get stuck:
Simple ways to reduce or manage stress
Stress can build up over time, so it is important to regularly do things to manage your stress. Some simple things that may help are:
- Have a cup of tea
- Work in the garden
- Walk in the rain (or sun!)
- Watch a fire or candle burn
- Take some photos
- Finish something. Anything. Just start a task and finish it.
- Lie in the sunshine and listen to your favourite album (or a new one)
- Have a snack
Where to from here?
Try keeping a note on your screen, or a notebook next to your keyboard, and start writing down EVERY positive thing that happens during your day – client chats, client wins, positive conversation with a colleague. Not matter how small, make a record of that win!
Be open and honest about why this is necessary, and communicate that is is better for your clients and the organisation if you are supported to put your self care strategies in place.
- Why do you do what you do
- Why is it valuable
- You ARE good at your job. Just because it looks different at the moment, it doesn’t mean you aren’t doing a good job
- Keep going. It’s ok to have rough days. Good days will come as well.
Following are a list of articles & websites you may find useful:
Self Care Starter Kit
The Self-Care Starter Kit℠ was initially developed for University of Buffalo Social Work students, but these resources are useful for students and professionals alike. This webpage contains a number of articles and worksheets that could help you develop your own self care plan.
Managing Self Care in your Digital Life
This article from ReachOut.com will help you find out more about self-care in your digital life and provides some practical strategies that you can use today.
Tips on working from home (resource list)
HealTorture.org have compiled a list of ideas and resources that can help you work from home more effectively.
Following are a list of podcasts that you may be interested in listening to:
How to conquer your anxieties during the COVID-19 outbreak
Your feelings arise from a misaligned ratio of stress to resiliency. The more resilient you become the less stress you’ll feel. Dr. Greg Fricchione, director of the Benson-Henry Mind Body Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, describes the tools and techniques for building resilience into your life during stressful times so we can better manage our anxieties.
Stress and anxiety in the time of Covid-19. A Harvard psychiatry professor weighs in.
Dr. Greg Fricchione places in context the worries we all feel when an infectious disease like the coronavirus COVID-19 comes calling. You’ll be happy to know the stress you’re experiencing is hard-wired into your mammalian brain as a well-known flight or fight mechanism. Digging a little deeper, we can come to understand that countering stress with a healthy dose of resilience can help us deal with these anxieties.
Coping in the time of COVID (Part 1 & 2)
The Two Shrinks Podcast hosts have a chat about common issues and questions coming up for people. Part one includes ideas on how to manage anxiety, dealing with uncertainty and coping with the flow on effects of COVID. We also talk about how to talk to people in your life who are more or less anxious than you about COVID. Part two covers self-care, feeling overwhelmed and coping with isolation.
Self Care for Social Workers
Kristen Lee, Ed.D., LICSW, talk about how social workers can practice self-care during the coronavirus pandemic. With more than 20 years’ experience as a clinician, educator, researcher and parent, she speaks about her area of expertise: preventing and treating burnout. One episode talks generally about self care & avoiding burnout, the second link specifically discusses self care during Coronavirus.
While this resource speaks about social workers, it is relevant to anyone doing frontline support work.
Working in Bushfire Impacted Communities
Australia has recently been devastated by bushfires spanning across the country. This podcast will provide an overview of what previous disasters have taught us about trauma reactions in children, adults, families and communities and what the evidence based and evidence informed interventions are that you can use in your practice. This podcast was recorded before COVID-19 changed the way we work, but it is important to develop our understanding of trauma and remember that there are many different things that can be having an impact on our lives beyond COVID-19.
The importance of self-care and downtime during the COVID-19 crisis
This short radio discussion focuses on providing recommendations and ideas for staying mentally healthy during uncertain times.